Women of Wonder: Science-Fiction Stories by Women about Women 0140048677, 9780140048674

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Women of Wonder: Science-Fiction Stories by Women about Women
 0140048677, 9780140048674

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SCIENCE FICTION STORIES BY EDITED,

WOMEN ABOUT WOMEN

WITH

AN INTRODUCTION AND

NOTES, BY PAMELA SARGENT

.

f\^\.3jh-i^Ji

Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive in

2010

littp://www.arcliive.org/details/womenofwondersciOOsarg

SCIENCE FICTION STORIES BY WOMEN ABOUT WOMEN

Edited, with an introduction and notes

by

PAMELA SARGCNT Vintage Books

A Division of Random House/ New York

VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION

Copyright

Januar)- 1975

© 1974 by Pamela Sargent

AU

rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York and simultaneously

in

Canada by Random House

of

Canada Limited, Toronto.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Sargent, Pamela, comp.

Women

of wonder.

Includes bibliographical references.

CONTENTS: Dorman,

S.

The

child

dreams.-Merril,

J.

That only a mother.— MacLean, K. Contagion, [etc.] 1. Women's writings, American. 2. Science fiction, American. 3.

Women— Fiction.

I.

Title.

PZl.SlSWo [PS647.W6] ISBN 0-394-71041-X Manufactured

in the

813'.0876

74-16044

United States of America

ACKNOWLKDOEMEMTS ©

"That Only a Mother" by Judith Merril; copyright 1948 b.y Street & Smith PubHcations, Inc. in the U.S.A. 1954 by Judith and Great Britain, and copyright Merril. Reprinted from Astounding Science Fiction by permission of the author and her agent, Virginia

©

Kidd.

©

"Contagion" by Katherine MacLean; copyright 1950 by World Editions, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and her agent, Virginia Kidd.

"The Wind People" by Marion Zimmer Bradley; copyright © 1958 by Quinn Publishing Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and her agents, Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Inc. "The Ship Who Sang" by Anne McCaffrey; copyright 1961 by Mercury Press, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and her agent, Virginia Kidd.

©

"When

©

I

Was

Miss

Dow" by Sonya Dorman;

copyright

1966 by Galaxy Publishing Corp. Reprinted by per-

mission of the author and her agent, John Schaffner.

"The Child Dreams," also by Sonya Dorman, printed bv permission of the author. "The Food Farm" by Kit Reed; copyright Kit

Reed.

Originally

©

published in Orbit

is

re-

1966 by

Two by

G. P. Putnam's Sons; reprinted by permission of the

author and her agents, Brandt

& Brandt.

"Baby, You Were Great" by Kate Wilhelm; copyright 1967 by Damon Knight. Reprinted from Orbit Two

©

by permission

of the author.

"Sex and/or Mr. Morrison" by Carol Emshwiller; copyright

©

1967 by

Harlan Ellison.

Reprinted from

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Dangerous Visions

b\'

vi

permission of the author and

the author's agent, Virginia Kidd.

"Vaster

Than Empires and More Slow" by Ursula

K.

©

1971 by Robert Silverberg. ReLe Guin; copyright printed from New Dimensions One by permission of the author and the author's agent, Virginia Kidd.

Dawn" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; copyright 1972 bv Random House, Inc. Reprinted from

"False

©

Strange Bedfellows by permission of the author.

©

1972 "Nobody's Home" by Joanna Russ; copyright Dimenby Robert Silverberg. Reprinted from New sions Two by permission of the author.

"Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" bv Vonda N. McInt\Te; 1973 by the Conde Nast Publications Inc. Reprinted from Analog bv permission of the

cop\Tight author.

©

would like to thank the following people, without whose help, advice and moral support my task in putting together this anthology would have been much I

morediflBcult:

Janet Kafka

Vonda N. Mclntyre George Zebrowski Jack

Dann

For Connie and Ginny

eOMTEMTS Xlll

Introduction:

Women and

Science Fiction

Pamela Sargent 3

The Child Dreams Sonya Dorman 5

That Only a Mother Judith Merril

18 Contagion Katherine

MacLean

59

The Wind People Marion Zimmer Bradley 82

The Ship Who Sang Anne McCajBFrey 108

When I Was

Miss

Dow

Sonya Dorman 125

The Food Farm Kit Reed 139 Baby, You Were Great Kate Wilhelm

159 Sex and/ or Mr. Morrison Carol Emshwiller XI

CONTENTS

xii

171 Vaster Than Empires and More Slow Ursula K. Le Guin

214 False

Dawn

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

235 Nobody's Home Joanna Russ

Of

257 and Grass, and Sand Vonda N. Mclntyre

Mist,

INTRODUCTION:

SeiKNCK FICTION PAMELA SARGENT

The

story of

women

in science fiction clearly suggests

the continuing emergence of a terized

This

body

by the new-found outlook

of

of

work charac-

its

practitioners.

new

outlook belongs naturally to good science where it has always been present to some deand to the new social-futurological concerns in

fiction,

gree,

the culture at large.

In the past, ters

women, both as writers and and stories, were part

in sf novels

fiction

only

sporadically.

as charac-

of science

During the past twenty

more women have entered the field. Some of them won acceptance initially by imitating the male writers, showing that they could do as well or better. Others explored the same material as male

years,

authors, but from a different perspective. There are signs that both female

and male writers are begin-

ning to work with new material and are questioning the assumptions which have dominated the field. SciXIU

PAMELA SARGENT ence

fiction

society

as

around

xiv

a whole, however,

still

reflects

the

it.

Most science fiction has been written by men, and they still form a majority of the writers today. About 10 to 15 percent of the writers are women. The vast majority of the readers are male and a fair number of them are young men or boys who stop reading sf regularly when they grow older. It is difficult to get exact figures on this, but publications for science fiction readers have at various times reported that most of their subscribers are men; a readership of 90 percent male and 10 percent female is not unusual. This is not at all surprising when one considers the relationship of science fiction to scientific and technical extrapolation, and the fact that science and technology are generally assumed to be masculine domains. Women have often been discouraged from entering scientific studies on various grounds: they do not have the aptitude, they are essentially intuitive rather than rational, they are concerned with trivialities or

the "here and

now" and

are inherently hostile

any kind of intellectual exploration, being basically it no doubt seemed unwise for a woman to invest the time and effort required for scientific study only to be relegated to

to

conservative. Practically speaking,

the role of wife and mother.

Women

studying science

and technology have often been, and sometimes are,

still

required to justify taking places that could have

gone

to

men. This problem occurs often enough in

other intellectual disciplines as well, but the study of art, literature, or the social sciences

can be ex-

cused if the woman does not pursue it for too long. It might make her a better mother, a more interesting intellectual companion for her husband, or pro-

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xv

The effort and long-term our society demands of those study-

vide her with a hobby.

commitment

that

ing the sciences are seen as inimical to the roles

women are supposed There are many

to play.

scientists

around who date their

earliest interest in science to the

time they read

sci-

The writers, usually males themknowing that their readership was primarily selves, male, often wrote directly for this readership. As a consequence, young girls often found nothing of interest to them personally in science fiction. Already discouraged from having an interest in technology, many girls found little for themselves in books where men had most of the adventures and fun. ence

fiction as boys.

We

can perhaps understand why the writers of science fiction took for granted certain presuppositions, as did almost everyone else in the society around them. Women, and racial minorities as well, suffered under these assumptions. If science was the province of males, it was also the province of white males. It is more common now to find black people

and other minorities represented

as characters in sf

although the number of black sf writers can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Women characters have been around longer but usually in unimportant stories,

roles.

One can wonder why

a literature that prides

on exploring alternatives or assumptions counter to what we normally believe has not been more concerned with the roles of women in the future. There are two possible answers, although neither excludes

itself

the other. Either science fiction original as

of

its

practitioners

not as daring or

would

like to be-

being more a worthy ideal than a reality; literature, designed to question our assump-

lieve, this

or this

some

is

:

PAMELA SARGENT cannot help reflecting

tions,

how

very deeply certain

sometimes sucimaginative liberation from time and

prejudices are ingrained— despite cessful efforts at

xvi

its

place.

Ironically, a case

was

can be made that the

woman, Mary

first

writer of

daughter of the eighteenth-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Although influenced by the Gothic literature of the time in setting and mood, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein ( 1818 ) also reflects an awareness science fiction

new

of

a

Shelley, the

scientific discoveries at this time, the

the Industrial Age.

The

British author

and

dawn

critic

of

Brian

Aldiss writes

In

.

.

.

combining

new scientific own day, Mary H. G. Wells when

social criticism with

ideas, while conveying a picture of her

Shelley anticipates the methods of

writing his

authors

own

who

What

romances and of some of the

followed him.^

Aldiss calls "the

fiction" has

The

scientific

first

real novel of science

had an obvious and enormous

story of Frankenstein

is

influence.

a powerful one, mirroring

growing scientific knowledge and the fear that this knowledge may destroy us, as Frankenstein's monstrous creation de-

as

it

does the conflict between

stroyed him.

One

feature of Frankenstein

is

of

interest

here.

Ellen Moers points out that the Gothic novel in the hands of its most popular eighteenth-century practi-

Ann

became "a feminine substitute for the picaresque, where heroines could enjoy all the adventures and alarms that masculine heroes had long tioner,

1

Radcliffe,

Brian Aldiss, Billion Year Spree

1973), p. 23.

(

New

York, Doubleday,

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xvii

experienced, far from home, in fiction."^ But Moers

goes on to say: .

.

.

what are we

make

to

of the next major turning

of the Gothic tradition that a

generation later?

made over

Mary

woman

Shelley's Frankenstein, in

the Gothic novel into

and

1818,

what today we

science fiction. Frankenstein brought a to literary terror,

brought about a

new

call

sophistication

did so without a heroine, without

it

even an important female victim.^ It

female characters in

new

absence of important novel, which introduced a

interesting to note the

is

literary

fiction

this

form and

set the

mold

for later science-

works.

Brian

Aldiss,

summing

in

up

Mary

Shelley's

achievement, writes:

Overshadowed by her husband's reputation, her writing has been too greatly neglected. It is all too

appropriate that

Mary

Shelley's

work has

been neglected. Science fiction has been similarly neglected until recently. As the standing of Mary's reputation

is still

Women

in the balance, so

is

science fiction's.^

writers of science fiction have

minority since

Mary

Shelley's time.

One

been

in the

nineteenth-

Rhoda Broughton, the niece of fantasy writer Sheridan Le Fanu. Broughton's "Behold It Was a Dream," a story about precognition, was pubcentury exception was

2

Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic:

The

New

The Monster's Mother," in 4, March 21,

York Review of Books (Vol. XXI, No.

1974), p. 24. Moers, p. 24. In her essay, Moers makes a convincing case for Frankenstein being a birth myth, reflective of Mary Shelley's 3

experience as a wife and mother. 4 Aldiss, pp. 34, 36.

PAMELA SARGENT

xviii

young woman, Dinah and has a dream which actragic death. It was not until

lished in 1873. In the story, a Bellairs,

visits

friends

curately forecasts their

the earl\ twentieth century that another a

mark

woman made

in science fiction.

Francis Stevens, whose actual name was Gertrude Barrows, was born in 1884. Her first pubhshed work, "The Nightmare," appeared in 1917. Widowed and responsible for the support of her mother and child,

made part fiction, much of she

Heads

of her living it

fantasy.

A

through the writing of

science fiction novel.

The

was published in 1919 as a serial & Smith's The Thrill Book; it was later re-

of Cerberus,

in Street

by Polaris Press in 1953 in a limited edition. The Heads of Cerberus may be the first work

issued

of

science fiction to use the concept of parallel time, in

which it is assumed that there are parallel worlds which have developed differently from our own as a result of different choices, circumstances and historical developments. This theme has been used fairly often Robert Drayton, friend Terence Trenmore, and Trenmore's sister

in sf ever since. ^ In Stevens's novel, his

Viola journey to a future Philadelphia in a parallel world. Viola Trenmore, who fulfills the traditional role of love interest in the storv,

is

also depicted as

a

courageous and determined woman.

The end of Francis Stevens's Iffe some of her fiction. After moving simply disappeared.

A

is

as mvsterious as

to California, she

her by her daughattempts to trace her

letter sent to

was returned and all were unsuccessful. To this dav, no one knows what

ter in 1939

became

of her.

5 One excellent example is Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (New York, Putnam's, 1962), which shows us a world in which Japan and Germany won World War II.

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xix

Another gifted writer of science fiction and fantasy is C. L. Moore. Catherine Moore began writing during the 1930s, and the best of her work has a brooding, hypnotic atmosphere. Moore was adept at writing from the male point of view, a necessity for anyone who wished to pubhsh in the pulp magazines which had dominated American sf since the 1920s. A number of her stories dealt with the adventures of Northwest Smith, a rugged soldier of fortune who traveled throughout the solar system. But Moore also wrote fantasy stories with a female heroine, Jirel of Joiry, a strong

One

Amazonian

figure.

of Moore's finest efforts

Woman

is

the short novel

No

1944 ) The heroine, a dancer named Deirdre, has her brain transplanted into a robotic body after nearly dying in a fire. In spite of her metal

Born

body, she the story,

(

.

determined to dance again. The men in anxious to protect her, want to prevent her is

from returning to the stage. Maltzer, the scientist who has given Deirdre her new body, fears that audiences will hate and resent the dancer. But Deirdre persists, gives a successful performance and points out to Maltzer

how

important

it

is

for her to continue her

contact with humanity through dance.

Moore's story

an important one for several reasons. It is an interesting example of an sf story which relies for its tension not on the mechanics of an adventure plot, but on the interaction between characters. More important, it is one of the earliest thoughtful treatments of the cyborg, a person who is partly or mostly machine. Deirdre, in her metal body, has gained new senses to replace the ones she lost (smell, taste and touch), and she recognizes that she could easily become alienated from the human beings around her. She thinks she can prevent this is

:

PAMELA SARGENT

xx

from happening by using the contact with her audi-

The men in the story feel seeing her somehow as trapped and cut

ences provided by dancing. sorry for her,

mechanical body. Deirdre, however, finds a new perceptual world opening up to her, and succeeds in creating a new style of dance as well. C. L. Moore married another science fiction writer,

oflF

in her

Henry Kuttner,

in 1940, and the two began to collaboon much of their work. Sf writer and critic Damon Knight commented on the marriage of these

rate

two

different talents

previous

Kuttner's clever,

well

conviction; ful

but a

began

had been

stories

Moore had written moody

little thin.

In the

seemed

and

content or

fantasies,

meaning-

working together, they which the practical solidity

forties,

to turn out stories in

of Kuttner's plots

superficial

much

constructed but without

to provide a vessel for

Moore's

poetic imagination.^

One

of these collaborations, "Vintage Season," an atmospheric story about visitors from the future in search of some enjoyment at the expense of the twentieth-century protagonist, is widely regarded as a classic in the field. This team of writers continued to

write stories together and separately until Kuttner's

sudden death in 1958. Leigh Brackett, who began writing

sf

during the

became a prolific writer of entertaining stories and novels and is still wTiting today. Her most recent credits include screenplays (Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye) as well as sf. Her work is characterized by plenty of action, he-man protagonists and tough1940s,

ness. 6

In a way, Brackett exemplifies the supposed

Damon

1967),

Knight, In Search of

p. 144.

Wonder

(

Chicago, Advent,

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxi

compliment, "she writes as well as a man"; in fact she writes exactly like a man steeped in machismo. Her vivid stories are fairly popular and are generally better written than many similar works.

One

"The Halfling" (1943), provides an interesting example of her work. Its hero, "Jade" Greene, is the cynical owner of a carnival featuring performers from various planeis. He becomes involved with a young woman named Laura Darrow who, unknown to Jade, is an alien sent by her tribe to kill renegades on other worlds. When Jade realizes that Laura is an assassin responsible for the murder of two of his performers, he kills her in selfdefense during a final confrontation. Although the characters are stereotypes, Brackett hints at an underlying sensitivity in Jade and makes Laura a good deal tougher than one might expect a female character to be. But the story, which might have been an interesting study of the relationship between man and alien and the conflict between their verv different cultures, is marred by the emphasis on action and the hardness, of Brackett's stories,

approaching brutality, of the The character of Laura no the attitudes toward women She is a beautiful creature,

hero.

doubt personifies some of held by many sf readers. but extremely dangerous and full of guile and deception. Another female char-acter, a human named Sindi who suspects that Laura is an alien, is treated as a jealous woman by Jade. When Sindi objects to Jade's hiring Laura as a dancer, he tells her, "Just like a dame. Why can't you be a good loser?"^

A very "^

different writer,

Wilmar

Shiras,

began her

sf

Leigh Brackett, "The Halfling," in The Halfling and Other by Leigh Brackett (New York, Ace, 1973), p. 15.

Stories

PAMELA SARGENT

xxii

with a story, "In Hiding," published in Astounding in 1948. In this story, a psychiatrist, Peter Welles, meets a seemingly average boy who has been sent to Welles b\' a schoolteacher. The boy, Timothy, is not doing anxthing overtly wrong, but the teacher suspects him of hiding something and believes he might be disturbed. Welles befriends the boy and discovers that Timothy is in fact a genius, capable of pursuincr man\- different studies. Timothv has alreadv published books under pseudonvms and has been doing work in genetics and linguistics. The boy is a mutant whose parents worked in an atomic-energy plant at the time of an accident. Born after the accident, Timothy was genetically changed. Two \'ears after the accident his parents suddenly died, as did others who had worked in the atomic plant. \\'elles and Timothv resolve to find the other orphaned children of such workers and help them. In a second story, "Opening Doors" (1949), Welles and Timothy find another genetically altered child genius, Elsie Lambeth. Elsie has lived in a mental hospital for years, unable to pla\- the role of a "normal" child. She has adjusted to the hospital and is relatively free to do what she wants there. She finds it easier to live in the institution than in a world suspicious of an inquisitive and brilliant child. Welles and Timoth\- must trv to convince Elsie that she has made career

wrong kind of adjustment. Shiras went on to wTite a novel about these children and others, Children of the Atom (Gnome Press, 1953). This thoughtful work does not present the children as frightening threats but as interesting and concerned individuals, and it raises some ethical questhe

tions.

How

benefit of

can the children best use their gifts for the humanity? Should they remain in the special

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

school they and their adult friends or should they go out into the

and

xxiii

relatives plan,

world and associate

with other children not so gifted?

How

will they deal

with the suspicion and hatred others might feel toward

them? In the problems of these mutant children, we can see reflections of the problems of all children; minority children, those who do not fit in, those whose dreams are discouraged or ridiculed, rejected children,

Lambeth and others, women might recognize some of the compromises and adjustments they have had to make

idealistic children. In the situation of Elsie

in a

world which often places a low value on their

intellectual accomplishments.

In the late 1940s another writer, Judith Merril, published her

first

science fiction story, "That Only a

Mother," about the aftermath of an atomic war. She went on to write several novels and stories, but be-

came even more renowned included

many volumes

for her editing,

which has

of the year's best of stories,

and early sixties. In these collections Merril showed a talent for selecting fine stories which also represented the various directions science fiction was taking. The 1950s saw another development in science fiction which accurately reflected the attitudes of the time. Many stories, often written by women, featured housewife heroines. These characters were usually passive or addlebrained and solved problems inadpublished annually throughout the

fifties

through ineptitude, or in the course of fulassigned roles in society. Often they, unlike the reader, never really understood what was going on, even by the end of the story. These stories

vertently, filling

their

showed women

as child-raisers

generally a good deal

more

(whose children were were ) as a future world where

gifted than they

consumers of goods (often in

,

)

PAMELA SARGENT

xxiv

advertising and the free-enterprise system

had run

wild), or as wives trying to hold their families to-

gether after an atomic holocaust or a similar disaster.

One example

of this kind of story

is

Ann Warren

"Captive Audience" (1953), in which the heroine lives in a world taken over by advertising. The cereal boxes, cans, and packages in her pantry are conGrLflBth's

booming out commercial messages of all kinds. In Mildred Clingerman's "Minister Without Port-

stantly

folio" (1951), the central character

mother who meets some

is

a kindly grand-

visiting aliens in a park.

The

woman does not realize who or what the aliens are, makes friends with them and exchanges photographs, thus ensuring interstellar harmony and peace between the two races. Although the story is clever and well written, and the grandmother believably portrayed, it follows the pattern of relying on the ignorance of its main female character to make its point. How valuold

able are these

little

things that

women

do!

"Created He Them" by AHce Eleanor Jones ( 1954 shows us a future housewife from an interesting perspective. Ann Crothers is literally a slave to her husband Henry, an ill-tempered man dissatisfied with nearly everything Ann does. She is miserable with Henry, but goes out of her way to hold the marriage together. We might wonder why she bothers, until we find out that Ann's world is a post-holocaust world contaminated by radioactive fallout. Few people can

have children who are not monstrosities, but Ann and Henry "breed true" to produce healthy children and are therefore

condemned

to a loveless life together

for the sake of future generations. is a boor. When Ann announces pregnant for the eighth time, Henry says, "Oh, God, now you'll be sick all the time, and there's

Henry Crothers

that she

is

WOMEN AND no

living with

her

when

she

SCIENCE FICTION

you when you're

cries,

sick."^

hates her because she

xxv

He is

criticizes

big and he

has always liked small women. Ann's only purpose in to bear healthy children.

life is

Her only pleasure

is

consumer goods with the bonuses granted to those who have healthy children. This bitter and horrifying picture of a future marriage is, either consciously or inadvertently, a condemnation of the form marriage has taken for many in our own time. It is Ann who must make all concessions, must care for the children ( until they are taken from her by the government at the age of three ) must give up her own needs and desires. In the passive Ann Crothers in getting difficult-to-obtain

,

we

see the archetypical figure of

woman

as sufferer,

bringing forth children in pain for humanity's benefit—but never for her own.

Other writers of the

departed from this pattern. Katherine MacLean, author of many fine stories, often used male protagonists but also wrote stories featuring female scientists or wives who were believably

fifties

on extrapolations combined with

and social sound characterization. Margaret St. Clair, a

her

MacLean's

characterized.

scientific

own name

stories

rely

prolific writer of stories

as well as

under

under the pseudonym

Idris

Seabright, specialized in short, sharp, elegant fantasies

often containing a dark side. In one of her stories,

"Short in the Chest," published in 1954 under the Seabright ristic trist

nom de

world

in

plume,

St.

Clair writes about a milita-

which a malfunctioning robot psychiayoung female marine calculated

gives advice to a

8 Alice Eleanor Jones, "Created He Them," in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fifth Series, ed. Anthony Boucher (New York, Doubleday, 1956), p. 134.

.

PAMELA SARGENT

xxvi

about a disastrous conflict. The story, which mentions sexuality, had some difficulty finding publication in a market that regarded the subject as to

bring

too daring.

Zenna Henderson, another writer who came to prominence in the fifties, produced a series of stories about "The People," a group of humanlike aliens who have settled in an isolated area on Earth. These "people" are a gentle group with extrasensory powers. The first story of the series (later made into a movie for television) deals with the problems a young schoolteacher has with her alien students. These stories were later published in two volumes, Pilgrimage (Doubleday, 1961) and The People: No Different Flesh (Doubleday, 1967). Another very talented writer, Andre Norton, began writing during the 1950s and became known as the author of many science fiction novels for younger readers. Often neglected by sf critics, who dismiss her books perhaps because they are for the young reader, Norton is in fact a gifted writer who in her best work shows a talent for vivid description, great feeling for her characters and detailed depiction of aHen peoples, ways, and settings. In several novels she uses American Indians as protagonists (this in a field not noted, even today, for its use of minority characters ) In The Beast Master (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959), Hosteen Storm, a young Navajo, must make an alien world his new home. He is one of onlv a few survivors of an Earth completely destroyed in an interstellar war. Hosteen Storm's exile takes on added meaning when we consider that he is the descendant of those who have had their homeland taken from them centuries before. In The Sioux Spaceman (Ace, 1960), Kade Whitehawk, a member of an Indian culture on

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxvii

once again become strong and powerful, is sent to an ahen world. There his gift for communicating with animals, taught to him by his culture, is again needed. Star Mans Son 2250 A.D. (Harcourt. Brace and World, 1952), shows us the diverse and multiracial cultures that have developed after an atomic war. One culture guards old scientific knowledge; another creates artifacts and has preserved old Earth which has

resumed the life of the Plains Indians. This novel, which holds out the hope that different cultures can work together peacefully without sacrificing their distinctive ways, remains one of Norton's best and most popular books. Norton often uses male protagonists in her novels, but a young girl transformed into an alien inhabitant of a forest world plays a central role in Judgment on Janus ( Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963) and Victory on Janus (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966). A recent novel, Forerunner Foray (Viking, 1973), has as its main character Ziantha, a young woman who can read crafts;

a third has

minds. of

The late 1950s and the more women writers

early 1960s

saw the entrance

into the field.

Perhaps not

and readers were the same time reexamining the assumptions and the

coincidentally, science fiction writers at

style of

much

science fiction. Several British writers,

magazine New Worlds under the editorship of Michael Moorcock, experimented with literary forms and different subject matter. Many American writers were also influenced by this development.

publishing in

Among

the

English

the writers

who

first

became known during

the sixties were the British writers Hilary Bailey and

Josephine Saxton, the Canadian Phyllis Gotlieb, and the Americans Joanna Russ, Carol Emshwiller, Kit

PAMELA SARGENT Reed, Sonya

xxviii

Dorman and Pamela

their stories, instead of dealing

"hardware" of science

fiction,

Zoline.

Many

with the traditional concentrated on the

that different societies or perceptions

effects

of

would

have on individual characters. One of the most interesting of the stories published by New Worlds at this time is Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death of the Universe" (1967). Written in a fragmented style, the story is about a California housewife, Sarah Boyle. The entropic decline of the universe becomes a metaphor for the state of Sarah's mind. Trapped in a role made obsolete by technology, Sarah is breaking down; this breakdown is underscored

by the accumulating dust

in her house, her fear that

the sugary breakfast cereal her children love to eat

might produce a virulent form of cancer

as well as

tooth decay, the chaotic birthday party she puts on for

her children and their friends. Sarah's husband

is

dim

how

figure never seen onstage,

many

children she has.

housewife"

The

and she

stor\^ is

is

not sure

a

related to the "silly

but Sarah Boyle's problems are not resolved in any way. She continues to decline, as does the universe around her. sf stories

of the

fifties,

Josephine Saxton's work, which includes a novel, Group Feast (Doubleday, 1971), and several stories, often relies on fantasy rather than explicitly sciencefictional

elements.

But

in

"The Power of Time"

1971 ) she writes movingly about a British housewife who wins a trip to New York, her love for a Mohawk man she meets there, and the events of a far future in (

,

which the woman's descendant, with the help of a Mohawk chief, utilizes the power of an advanced technology to move all of New York City to the English Midlands. The present and future worlds are skillfully welded together in this story. The present-

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxix

day love affair ends sadly; the moving of New York to England ends in disaster. Anne McCaffrev is another writer who came to prominence during the sixties. Her work relies on more traditional science-fictional elements, but female

An

characters are prominent. (

Ballantine, 1967

)

,

early novel, Restoree

has a female protagonist and caused

some controversy when

it

protagonists being rare.

Two

was

first

published, female

novels that are part of a

Dragonfiight (Ballantine, 1968) and Dragonquest (Ballantine, 1971), deal with a distant planet

series,

where the inhabitants have a telepathic dragonlike creatures there. Caffrey's work,

it is

that

and sentimental, but he-men and overly

If

some

there of

a flaw in

Mc-

overly romantic

dominated by rugged

in a genre

intellectual

scientific

occasional romanticism provides a

At

is

it is

link with the

sorts,

this

welcome change.

best, McCaffrey's writing shows us believable

its

human

characters interacting in realistically portrayed

and future settings. Kate Wilhelm also makes use

alien

in her

of traditional elements

work, but often questions the presuppositions of

science and technology. In "The Planners" (1968), a

who

working on the chemical basis of memory, is beginning to have doubts about the ethics of his experimentation, which involves the use of convicts and a severely disturbed boy. Darin cannot admit these doubts to himself and his mind begins to externalize them in the form of a young girl, Rae, who criticizes Darin's belief that he is only interested in furthering knowledge. This complex story demonstrates a belief that scientific thought cannot be scientist,

Darin,

is

considered independently of ethical considerations. In a longer story, "Somerset into

dreams

is

going on in

Dreams" (1969), research a town inhabited mostly by

)

PAMELA SARGENT old people.

the conflict tions

xxx

Here Wilhelm writes about a doctor and she feels between her professional obliga-

and her

responsibilities to her aging parents. In

1973 ) Wilhelm paints a horrif \'ing picture of a Florida town transformed into a My Lai

"The

\'illage"

by a group

of

,

(

American

soldiers.

The

story

picture of a military system out of control

is

and

a vivid a suit-

is

able antidote to the glorification of military virtues

found

in so

much

science fiction. Wilhelm's female

characters sometimes appear in the familiar role of

housewife but they are complex individuals, often quite different from what the men around them perceive

them

to be.

Joanna Russ ing during the

is

another major talent

who began

writ-

Her work is marked by a carefully crafted prose. Her first novel, Picnic on Paradise (Ace, 1968), has as its main character Alvx, a tough young woman of the distant past brought to the future, who must guide a somewhat frivolous group of tourists to safety on a recreational planet. Alyx was also the subject of short stories, among them "The Barbarian" (1968) and "Tlie Adventuress" (1967). Russ's novelette "The Second Inquisition" 1969 is about a \oung girl who is visited hx her timetraveling descendant. In Ajid Chaos Died (Ace, sixties.

(

complex novel based on Taoist thought, Russ's Earthman hero comes in contact with a culture a

1970),

gifted with parapsychological abilities.

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the most important contemporar)^ science-fiction writers, also began writing

during the

and

sixties.

short stories.

She

is

the author of several novels

Among

the stories, "Nine Lives"

one of the best. It is about ten members of a produced from the genetic material of one person who are identical twins of that per(

1969

)

is

clone, individuals

— WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxxi

These ten people are sympathetically and carefully drawn; when nine of them die in a mining accident, the tenth, used to being with people exactly like himself, must adjust to being with more disparate son.

human beings. Le Guin's The Left Hand

Darkness (Walker, 1969 ) is deservedly regarded as one of the best novels in the field. The human narrator, a man named Genly Ai, is sent as an envoy to the Gethenians, inhabitants of the planet Winter. The Gethenians are neuter, but are subject to a monthly fertile season, called kemmer. Each Gethenians finds a partner; hormonal secretions make one Gethenian either male or female.

The

other then becomes a

of

member

of the opposite

and they mate. No Gethenian knows which sex "he" will become during kemmer. Genly Ai, the Earthman, considers the implications

sex

of this physiological development: sible, since all sex

rape

is

not pos-

must be by mutual consent. Since

the Gethenians are neuter most of the time, sex plays

no role in their daily

when

everything else

lives is

except during kemmer,

subordinated to

it.

In the

words of Genly Ai and Le Guin: Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything. This sounds very simple, but its psychological eflFects are incalculable. The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be ( as Nim put it ) "tied down to childbearing" implies that no one is quite so thoroughly "tied down" here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are

shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free

male anywhere

Consider: there

and weak halves,

is

else.

no division of humanity into strong protective/ protected, dominant/ sub-

)

PAMELA SARGENT

xxxii

owner/ chattel, active/ passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter. missive,

The following must go into my finished Directives: When you meet a Gethenian you cannot and must not do what a bisexual naturally does, which is to cast him in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting toward him a corresponding role dependent

on your expectations of

the patterned or possible interactions between persons of

same

the

One It is

or the opposite sex.

is

respected and judged only as a

human

being.

an appalling experience.^

Genly Ai manages to achieve a close personal relationship with one of Winter's inhabitants, and sees his own race of humans as alien at the end of the novel; two different species, almost repellent. In showing us Winter, Le Guin manages to give us some insight into

human 9

culture as well.^^

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left

Hand

of Darkness

(

New

York, Walker, 1969), pp. 68-69.

i^An

The Left Hand of Darkness took place between Ms. Le Guin and the distinguished Polish sf writer Stanislaw Lem in the pages of SF Commentary, interesting discussion about

an Australian publication edited bv Bruce R. Gillespie. In an Lem makes the following

essay entitled "Lost Opportunities,"

remarks:

Although her anthropological understanding is very good, her psychological insight, on the other hand, is only sufficient and sometimes even insufficient. Mrs. Le Guin invents a biologically plausible and fictionally valuable creation. She invents "other periodically

but

who

their

(

humans" who not only become sexual beings

we

[also]

find such things in sf including bisexuality ,

become

periodically male or female during

"kemmer" period (sexual period). Not only this, but do not know beforehand which sexual incarnation

also they

they will experience next time. The author would not create, could not create, or did

:

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxxiii

The 1970s have seen the first published works of a new generation of women sf writers; among them are Vonda N. Mclntyre, Ruth Herman, Chelsea Quinn Raylyn Moore, Lisa Tuttle, Crania Davis,

Yarbro,

Joan Bernott, Suzette Hadin Elgin, Carol Carr, Doris not

know how

to

create

the cruel harshness

of the

in-

She gives us some dividual's destiny in such a hints in discursively developed chapters, but she does not system.

transform this anthropological material into the shapes of individual lives.

However,

let

us imagine ourselves

Two

the people in this novel. force themselves

Who

(i)

in

the

situation

of

questions about basic existence

upon our minds become during the next "kemmer"

(sex-

will I

ual) period, male or female? Contrary to all stereotyped opinions, the normal uncertainty of our lives, already well-

known

becomes painfully extended by this sexual We wouldn't need to worry merely about the trivial question of whether next month we impregnate or get impregnated, but we would face a whole new class of psychic problems about the roles which await us at the two poles of the sexual alternative. to

us,

indeterminism.

(ii)

will

we

From

a circle of totally indifferent people, to

feel erotically attracted

whom

during the next "kemmer"?

For the time being, everybody else is a neuter as well, and so we can never determine our biological future. The changing pattern of sexual relationships will always surprise us

new and always doubtful changes within known environment

with

.

.

the already

.

But consider the cruel irony of

fate:

Let's

assume that

somebody else as a female during the "kemmer" period, and that after some months both became "women" or "men." Can we believe a person as a male happened to love

that both will then simply search for biologically suitable

(heterosexual)

partners?

If

we answered

"yes"

to

this

would we speak nonsense, but we lie, because we know more clearly

question, then not only

would

how

also tell a flat

the

power

form our inner

of cultural-psychological conditioning

may

our biological instincts. Therefore, Winter's people must experience a lot of unlives in defiance of

PAMELA SARGENT

xxxiv

Maggie Nadler, Phyllis MacLennan, Suzy McKee Charnas and others. Among the Piserchia, Lin Nielson,

writers specializing in fantasy are Phyllis Eisenstein,

Kurtz

Katherine

(author

Derijni Checkmate, 1972

Deryni

of

Rising,

and High Deryni,

1970,

1973,

all

happiness and grief, as well as a lot of "perversion," as "past" males remain more strongly attracted by their "past" female partners— perhaps now neuters or males— than to those people who, because of the dictates of their glands, are

now prepared

bizarre,

play the female

to

even hellish

possibilities

What

role.

may an

cruel,

author find here!

These possibilities hide within them the roots of a malignancy that would strike us as openly hellish and intentional I

.

.

.

take from the novel the truth about

human

me

(i.e.

about

may

beings) that however painful our sexual lives

be, the limitation of our sexual unequivocalit}'

and not a

Of

curse.

is

all

a blessing,

course, the Karhider [Gethenian]

must

think quite differently from us, and think of us as abnormal, as Mrs.

Le Guin

Now

back

written.

Also

shows

rightly

the

to it

novel.

.

.

.

Stylistically,

contains the richness

it

and

is

very

variet)'

well

of the

mores and customs of an alien civilization, although it is not whollv consistent. Whatever the author may try to tell us, she has written about a planet where there are no women, but only men— not in the sexual, but in the social sense— because Karhider garments, manners of speech, mores, and bfehaviour, are masculine. In the social realm, the male element has remained victorious over the female one. [SF

Commentary

24,

November

essay was published in the

Merkur

no.

25.

from the German bv Franz by Bruce Gillespie.]

Translated

Rottensteiner and revised

In a later issue Ms.

marks

1971, pp. 22-24. The original German publication Quarber

Le Guin responded

to

Lem's

re-

:

Stanislaw Lem's projected novel

...

is

fascinating,

Lem would

write

it.

I

as

wish that couldn't, partly because the phys-

tantahsing as one of Borges' hints-for-stories.

I

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxxv

published by Ballantine), Sanders Anne Laubenthal (author of Excalihur, Ballantine, 1973) and Joy Chant (author of Red Moon and Black Mountain, Ballan-

Some of these women, and others in the come, may be important authors of science

1970).

tine,

years to

iology of

"my" Gethenians

is

Lem

not as

reads

by the

tragedies that he calls for are obviated

it.

The

"differentiat-

ing" mechanism which provides that the second or slower

which enter kemmer

always develop the opThe entrance-door for tragedy, I think, is rather the strong hkelihood that two long-term lovers might drift out of synchronisation, as it were: a few hours' difference in the length of their somerkemmer periods would do it within a year. This difficulty I evaded shamelessly, and only provided a sophisticated pharmacopeia and highly refined techniques of body control to the Gethenians, so that some solution of such latent of a pair

posite

sex

disasters

Lem

to

the

or

first

will

earlier.

,

.

.

was imaginable. not the

to accuse the Gethenians of being Will he, or anyone else, please point out one passage or speech in which Estraven [a Gethenian characterl does or says something that only a man could or would do or say?

all,

is

or 90%, male.

Is

it

first .

.

.

we tend

possible that

to insist that

Estraven and

the other Gethenians are men, because most of us are unwilling or unable to imagine women as scheming prime ministers, haulers of sledges across icy wastes, etc.? I

know

the

that the use of the masculine

imagination,

reader's

perhaps

pronoun influences

decisively

.

.

.

Alexei

Panshin and others have demanded an invented neuter pronoun. I did consider this carefully, and I decided against it. The experiment was tried by Lindsay in A Voyage To Arcturus,

and

is

it

preciosity; three

to

my

ears a failure,

hundred pages of

it

an exasperating

would be

intolerable.

The intransigence of the medium is, after all, the joy of it. Though you can do more with English, perhaps, than with any language that any artist was ever lucky enough to speak, you cannot do anything you like with it. .

.

.

.

You

refer

to

their

dress

as

people in really cold climates wear?

.

masculine. I

.

What do

took the Eskimos

PAMELA SARGENT

xxxvi

They will undoubtedly bring a new perspecand new materials to the field, and should help

fiction.

tive

dispel the notion that science fiction

is

primarily for

men.

n might be useful to look at how some male sf writers have dealt with women. A Swedish writer and critic, Sam J. Lundwall, says: It

The sex roles in science fiction are as unyielding as the metal in the space ship's hull; emancipation is an unknown word.

The holy cry seems

to

be "Woman, know thy place!"

and even though women are usually present in the spaceships, they are generally treated like some kind of inferior creature. ^^

No doubt some origins of

of this has

American

(as

sf

its

roots in the pulp

opposed

world

to serious

as models.

They— men and women— wear

of course.

Did you ever

tunics and trousers, wear a skirt— long or shortin a wind at 20° F in deep snow? I did want a "normal," and male, Terran observer as narrator, because I thought that people would have trouble

to identify emotionally

many

try to

with Gethenians. Indeed,

thought

I

would find them repulsive. I was wrong, and I should have had more courage. None the less I still believe that one can convey more in-

that

people, especially men,

directly than directly, unless I

am

one simply delivers a message.

a novelist, not a telegraph oflBce.

.

.

.

What

I

had

to

say about Gethenians was intended to rouse the reader's

own

imagination.

.

.

.

[SF Commentary 26, April 1972, pp.

90-92.] 11 Sam J. Lundwall, Science (New York, Ace, 1971 ), pp. 145,

Fiction:

144.

What

It's

All

About

WOMEN AND sf ),

designed, for

SCIENCE FICTION

all its scientific

xxxvii

pretensions, as pri-

an escapist literature for men and boys.^^ Science fiction provided a world in which a male could experience high adventure and the interplay of scientific ideas and technological gadgets free from marily

became the neighbor-

the interference of females. Sf

hood clubhouse where the boys could get together away from the girls (or parents, or the short-sighted culture at large), who were a nuisance anyway. They got in the

way

in the clubhouse; they got in the

way

of

the stories too, unless they stayed in their assigned

domain.

Women,

in their limited roles, served a practical

function for the writer. In his story he could have a character explain the workings of a gadget or a scientific

principle to an ignorant girl or

woman, and by

Women

could also serve as rewards for some heroic deed, could be rescued from danger, could sometimes be dangerous (or devious) enemies that the hero had to defeat, or could adorn extension to the reader.

showed them

the covers of magazines, which often

dressed in revealing and impractical

But

women were

ignored in

sf

outfits.

before

Hugo

Gerns-

back, the so-called father of science fiction, founded

the pulp magazine

nineteenth-century

Amazing figures

in 1926.

The two major

science

in

Jules

fiction,

Verne and H. G. Wells, who influenced much of the to follow,

Mary

paid

little

Shelley, as

attention to

we have

sf

women.

seen, laid

some

of the

groundwork by leaving out important female figures. Jules Verne, in his adventurous and entertaining 12

One must remember

ous anywhere. fiction.

This

is

It is

that science fiction

is

not homogene-

written at every level of qualit)', as

an obvious point, but one many people

is

all

forget.

PAMELA SARGENT novels, cast

left

them

xxxviii

out female characters entirely, or else

in the roles of

endangered

women

for the

heroes to rescue, or as relations of protagonists, there

Verne was an enormously popular author in his own time and films based on his work (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, A to provide a love interest.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days and others) continue to entertain us

But more important, his influence is still sf novels which rely heavily on adventure and gadgetr) rather than on a serious exploration of the social consequences of new discoveries. Verne's characters were nineteenth-century men, essentially unchanged by exciting adventures, strange new devices or the discoverv of other worlds. Modern-day authors who follow this example present unchanged twentieth-century men and twentieth-centur)^ sex roles. Occasionally some variety is provided by allowing the hero to go to bed with a woman, or several today.

present in

women. "Liberated women"

who

will sleep

in this context are ones

with the hero at

little

or

no provo-

cation.

H. G. Wells,

who wrote most

of his science fiction in

the late nineteenth century, can be considered the

forerunner of science fiction that deals seriously with change. Socially committed, Wells was very much interested in the rights of

yet this interest

is

women, among other

absent from his science

issues;

His

fiction.

and the women who appear do not seem different from what we might expect. Wells's concern for women was expressed instead in nonprotagonists are male,

science-fictional works.

Wells remains the classic

The Time Machine, The of the

sf

author. Books such as

Invisible

Worlds are examples

Man

of sf at

and The its

best.

War It

is

:

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xxxix

on what might have happened Wells had dealt more completely with

interesting to speculate in the field

if

women. ^^

Many major

have what at best could be toward women. One story considered a classic in the field, "Helen O'Loy" by Lester del Rey ( 1938 ) concerns a man who builds a robot and programs her to be the perfect wife. Helen, the completely devoted robot, immerses herself in housewifely duties, and chooses to die with her inventor, even though her metal body makes her virtually immortal. At the end of the story, the inventor's friend bemoans the fact that there was only one Helen. Sf reviewer and critic Beverly Friend sf

writers

called an ambivalent attitude

,

writes Frankly, one in

sf is

too

many: another blatant statement

woman as mere appendage to man — a walking, talking doll who performs better as an android than she could of

possibly do as a woman.^*

Isaac Asimov, in his "robot" stories published dur-

ing the forties in Astounding and

some 13

the

of the best stories in the field,

One

regarded as produced a major still

interesting female character in Wells's

woman

the

Time Traveler meets on

work

is

Weena,

Weena is men and women

his journey.

helpless

and weak, but so are They are the Eloi, the

all

alike.

childlike far-future descendants

of the

human

1"*

her people,

race.

Beverly Friend, "Virgin Territory:

Women

and Sex

in

Science Fiction," in Extrapolation (Vol. 14, No. 1, December 1972), p. 49. Ms. Friend has some interesting comments about

Farmer and Theodore Sturgeon, two writers who have pioneered in speculating about sex in their sf stories and novels. Of particular interest is Sturgeon's Venus Plus X (New York, Pyramid, 1960), which is about a single-sexed culture and a man's reaction to it. Philip Jose

PAMELA SARGENT

xl

female character, Dr. Susan Calvin. Susan Calvin is an intelligent and extremely rational expert on robots, who is often called in to solve problems during the course of the series. But she is also an individual who prefers robots to people, who has never married, who is, in short, peculiar from the viewpoint of most people. ^^ Although Asimov is clearly sympathetic to Calvin and her work, the reader is free to draw the conclusion that Susan Calvin is a frustrated "old maid" who has never really fulfilled herself. In most of Asimov's other work, the women are either in traditional roles or

realm

work only when

single; the scientific

predominantly male. In his classic sf -mystery novel. The Caves of Steel (first published in Galaxy magazine in 1953), the hero, Lije Baley, is a detective in a future New York which is part of an overpopulated world. Haley's wife, Jessie, is a housewife who worked as a dietician in one of the communal kitchens before her marriage. In his latest novel. The Gods Themselves (Doubleday, 1972), Asimov implies that males are rational, females intuitive. Although he does not assign values to these functions and seems to feel that they are both necessary, one wonders about the assumption. It is, however, interesting to note that the alien species dealt with in this novel is three-sexed, is

and that the member

of the triad

who

cares for the

is referred to with the masculine pronoun. Robert Heinlein, one of the most popular novelists

children

15

Although Dr. Calvin prefers robots

to people, there

is

a

and endearing robots are better than people. The "robot" stories were eventually published in two volumes, 7, Robot (New York, Gnome Press, 1950) and The Rest of the Robots (New York, Doubleday, 1964). The second volume also contains two novels, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. logical reason for her preference. Asimov's ethical

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

of science fiction, presents a

complex

xli

case. Heinlein's

novels are populated with women and girls who join the army, pilot spaceships, are engineers or doctors, or are familiar with higher mathematics. As early as 1941, in a speech at a science-fiction convention, Heinlein

how

spoke of scientific

valuable

method

it

in dealing

is

for a person to use the

with people:

women — you

can't be a womanmethod, you can't you don't even you don't know all women possibly know a large enough percentage of the group to be able to form an opinion on what the whole group may be!^^

... he

hater,

not

can't hate all if

you use the

scientific



He

.

has also gone on record publicly in favor of

women's If

.

.

Heinlein said:

rights. In a recent interview,

you want

my

personal opinion

.

.

.

women

haven't

been invited into the space program because the people who set up the rules are prejudiced. I would like to see some qualified women hit NASA under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They're entitled to go; they're paying half the taxes; it's just as much their program as ours. How in God's

name NASA could is

female,

Yet

many

inexplicable gifted.

fail to

notice that half the

human

race

I don't know.^"^

of Heinlein's female characters act in

manner

for people

who

an

are supposedly so

In Tunnel in the Sky (Scribner's, 1955), an and well-written novel for young readers,

entertaining

Ackerman, "Heinlein On No. 1, April 1973), p. 96. This article is the text of a speech entitled "The Discovery of the Future" given by Heinlein at the 3rd World Science Fiction Convention in Denver in 1941. The speech was transcribed for Vertex by Forrest J. Ackerman. 16

Robert A. Heinlein and Forrest

Science Fiction," in Vertex (Vol.

Frank Robinson, "Conversation With Robert Heinlein," Oui (Vol. 1, No. 3, December 1972), p. 112.

1'^

in

J.

1,

PAMELA SARGENT the hero's sister

is

a

member

of the

xlii

armed

services,

but

marry almost any man she can find (women outnumber men in this future world) and settle down to raise children. In Citizen of the Galaxy (Scribner's, 1957), the young hero meets a girl who is gifted in mathematics but pretends she is ignorant to hold his interest. In Podkayne of Mars (Putnam's, 1963), a novel in which a teen-aged girl is the central figure, Heinlein portrays her as an adolescent Doris Day, constantly flirting with men, disguising the fact that she is bright, and making use of "feminine wiles." Podkayne soon decides that raising children and being a pediatrician are much more her only real desire

is

to

exciting than being a spaceship captain, her previous goal.

Have

Spacesuit, Will Travel (Scribner's, 1958)

shows us a heroine who is neither silly nor unintelligent, but that is probably because she is a little girl and has not been socially conditioned as yet; The Star Beast

who

(

Scribner's, 1954

)

has a young female character

has divorced her parents and lives in a youth

hostel.

Heinlein

he

may

represent an advance over

much prewomen are

concedes the fact that capable of courageous deeds and intellectual activity. But he is apparently uncomfortable with women who are not at some point subordinate to men. No matter how capable, gifted or adventurous she is, a woman's main interest is in bearing children to a robust and vious

sf ;

at least

worthv male. Heinlein often presents societies which have quite different bases than ours, but the sex roles do not vary. In Podkayne of Mars, for example, women bear their children in youth; then the newly born infants are "frozen" cryonically. After mother and father have established themselves in their careers, the babies are

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xliii

"thawed out" or revived, and raised when the parents have the time. One would think that this development alone would alter the family structure, but women are seen as primarily responsible for child care. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Putnam's, 1966), the

still

inhabitants of the moon are the descendants of a penal colony, of criminals exiled from Earth. Heinlein

speculates on the different forms marriage has taken

world where

in this

women

men outnumber women, but

are generally responsible for domestic

Oddly enough, when sex

started to

the

life.

become a more

acceptable part of science fiction in the 1960s

(it still

remains out of bounds to some readers and magazines), this did little to aid Heinlein's characterizations of women. In Stranger in a Strange Land (Putnam's, 1961), an immensely popular and much reprinted Heinlein novel, the women characters have regressed to being nothing objects. I Will

very

silly

Fear

No

more than

beautiful sex

Evil (Putnam's, 1970) has a

heroine whose body

is

used to house the

brain of an old and dying man. In fact, Heinlein's

female characters seem to have become more onedimensional in later works. The use of sex in science fiction, for

many

other writers as well, seemed to

only one thing: the role of

woman

mean

as sex object could

be added to the traditional ones of housewife, childraiser, damsel in distress and scientist's daughter.^^ 1®

Robert Heinlein has been severely criticized by many sf and reviewers for his depictions of female characters.

critics

Sam J. Lundwall stated that Heinlein "still firmly believes that women are fit only for the harem." Others have objected to the fact

that

many

Heinlein heroines

are

as

preoccupied with

cosmetics, flirtations, child-bearing or "holding their

men"

as

they are with science or higher mathematics. Still others have complained that they are not "feminine" enough. It is

true that

many

of his

women

characters

would not be

.

PAMELA SARGENT In other stories and novels,

we

xliv

see a world in which

gadgets have usurped most of the household tasks

commonlv done by women. In "With Folded Hands" 1954 ) b\' Jack Williamson, a thoughtful stor\' about the consequences of making machines the guardians (

harem

modern-day equivalent; is especially true of the women in his most recent work. can speculate on the reasons for this:

out of place in a

(

1

or

its

this

We

Heinlein's novels are another case of "cultural spillage,"

)

around the author spilling work about the future and

what should be

of the culture

into

speculative

affecting the author's

a

assumptions. Cultural spillage does not have to be a bad thing.

The assumptions to inform or

or concerns of the culture at large can be used

improve a science

been used successfully

at times.

fiction

novel or story, and have

But a

science-fiction writer, be-

cause of the distinctive nature of his or her work, must be on guard and ready to assume a skeptical or questioning attitude if

he or she

is

to

(2) Heinlein

women

be truly speculative. may be assuming that

it is

a real possibility that

will in the future, in spite of increased opportunities,

be flirts, mothers or wives. As a matter of fact, female characters choose their fates to a certain extent. They are generallv not passive creatures but strongwilled sorts who make up their own minds about what they

choose

to

Heinlein's

want.

Even

the sex objects in his novels often initiate the action.

Those who become mothers resemble "professional parents" more than put-upon housewives, and parenthood is respected and honored. It seems that Heinlein genuinely believes that parenthood is an exciting occupation and as fulfilling as anything else might be. This is a good and defensible position. One can still ask, however, whv men in Heinlein's novels don't also choose so-called feminine occupations.

Of

course, a

need not be rational and sf authors do not hav^e to write normatively (although because sf has a strong didactic strain, one often feels that authors are prescribing as well as speculating, and some of them undoubtedly are ) Perhaps Heinlein, like most of us, believes diff^erent things at different times. If he emphasizes the wonders of parenthood and family life in many books, he also shows us a girl "divorcing" her parents (in The Star Beast). If he shows us female societv of the future

WOMEN AND of humanity, robots

SCIENCE FICTION

xlv

do the housework and can even

handle child care. Yet the hero's wife apparently does nothing outside the home. As it turns out, there is a logical reason for this, as the robots are soon trying to prevent everyone from working, but this is not the case at the beginning of the story. In The Age of the shows us a married couple and who function as a children ( in "The Unpleasant

sex objects in later works, he also

who

are good friends as well as lovers

team, with no apparent desire for

Profession of Jonathan Hoag," 1942). In

(New York, Scribner's, who has given up her spite

1952), the hero's mother

in

Rolling Stones is

a physician

practice for full-time motherhood.

of this lapse, she acts

husband

The

an emergency

much more

situation.

rationally

In than her

Ignoring her husband's

objections and his desire to protect his wife from infection, the

doctor boards a stranded spaceship with sick passengers in

need of medical assistance. Women are shown in positions of power in some early works, and it is not too unusual for Heinlein to imply that they are more knowledgeable or rational than men. Heinlein as a person appears to have a strong hbertarian streak and has publicly denounced any form of coercion (including prisons and the militarv' draft). It is difficult to believe that he would have any desire to keep women "in their place." Yet he still seems to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that women are sometimes in need of protection or wish to fulfil] themselves primarily as wives or mothers (usually, however, after expressing themselves in other areas). It may be that Heinlein sincerely believes that being a mother is superior to anything men can do. But because this belief is often used as a rationalization by others to limit women's lives, Heinlein has been criticized for it. Heinlein's novels present an informative and sometimes contradictory picture of the various ways in which men have viewed women and might view them in the future. It is interesting to think about what might happen if Heinlein took more care with his female characterizations. Obviously he is a complex case and it is difficult to make a definitive comment about him or where he stands.

PAMELA SARGENT Pussyfoot by Frederik Pohl a future world in

(

xlvi

Ballantine, 1969 )

,

we

see

which death has been conquered,

boring tasks are automated, and people use personal

computers for everyday decisions. Joanna Russ comments: But

you look more

if

find that

freer than our

women; is

closely at this weird world

you

practices a laissez-faire capitalism, one even

it

that

own; that men make more money than

men have

the better jobs

(

the book's heroine

the equivalent of a consumer-research guinea pig);

that children are raised at

home by

and

their mothers. ^^

Often the treatment of women in sf is rationalized by setting the story on a far planet where the characters are colonists or are accidentally stranded. Stories

of people colonizing or accidentally landing

on

alien

worlds are a popular subject in science fiction for obvious reasons. The alien setting, with its unusual flora

and fauna and

its

unknown

dangers, provides

adventurous escape reading. It allows the author to use his or her imagination in the creation of such a world. At its best such a story can also provide a setting for the thoughtful exploration of the problems involved in confronting an alien world and the ways in which humans might deal with the new planet. Unfortunately, assigns

women

much

of this type of science fiction

to the traditional roles of bearing

and

caring for children and the home, on the grounds that the primary dut\' of the colonists

mally the

women

do not usually

is

to procreate. Nor-

agree to this necessity; those

find

fulfillment,

as

the

who

novel pro-

Joanna Russ, "The Image of Women in Science Fiction," in Vertex (Vol. 1, No. 6, February 1974), p. 54. 19

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xlvu

grasses, in their "natural" function. This type of sf

presents a problem.

tated

Yet

Our

roles are, after

by the surroundings in which

it is

we

all,

often dic-

find ourselves.

surprising that the colonists do not experiment

more with

social structures

and that reluctant women

trapped in the constraints of certain roles are not more sympathetically.^^ Occasionally the colonists abandon monogamy, on the grounds that the future society will be healthier with as many different genetic combinations as possible. This may be perfectly true, but it still leaves the women in the position of brood mares. treated

One might wonder why women would abandon Earth for such restrictive roles. The fact is that usually their lives on Earth are depicted as equally restricted, if not more so. The Earth they leave behind is decadent, totalitarian, overpopulated, dull, or all of these and more. Sometimes there is a shortage of "husband material,"

and

it

often assumed that a woman's

is

primary desire is finding a husband. In other novels the Earth has, through war or some other disaster, become unable to sustain life. Occasionally the women simply follow their men. Poul Anderson, a gifted and 20 It

in a

would be

woman

show the conflict demanded by physical use her other abilities. It would be

interesting, for example, to

character between the role

necessity and her desire to even more interesting to resolve the problem, and not simply by having the woman find fulfillment as a mother.

To make an obvious just their bodily

valued for their

point,

women,

like

men, are more than

equipment. Male colonists in

abilities

and

for their genes.

sf

novels are

Women, however

talented or well-educated, are often valued only for the genes

they will pass on to succeeding generations.

with which writers truth demands.

insist

on bodily basics

is

The frequency greater than the

PAMELA SARGENT prolific

author of science

woman in his She

still

xlviu

such a

describes

fiction,

novel Orbit Unlimited:

hadn't asked him what

was

it

plan one

[a

character has just mentioned]. But that was typical of her.

human

Like most women, she kept her warmth for

and

left

she had

the abstractions to her husband.

come

to

Rustum

less for

He

things

often thought

her beliefs than for him.^i

Often the reasons for the colonization of other worlds rest on an assumption not unlike the popular nineteenth-centur\' notion of "manifest destinv."

Hu-

new frontiers if it is to survive and prosper; nature has made us extreme!)' fertile and will not be thwarted in her aim; therefore we must find new worlds and settle them. These assumptions have manity must have

been questioned

in the past

by some

sf

writers

and are

being questioned today.

But the old cultural assumptions say a

how women have been regarded

in

Man

sf.

aggressive and driven outward in his

Woman

lot is

about

seen as

explorations.

shadow, rarely initiating any action of her own. There are surely other alternatives. We need not so ruin the Earth that we are forced off it. We need not regard other worlds as ours if we happen to be stronger than their inhabitants. It should be possible for us, men and women, to explore other worlds together and perhaps to learn more about them, and ourselves. 21

follows, a satellite in his

Poul Anderson,

Orbit

Unlimited

(New

York,

Pyramid,

1961), p. 89. Anderson later, in Tau Zero (New York, Doubleday, 1970), depicted women who want to explore space for the same reasons the men do, although they are ready to begin the customary breeding at the end of the novel.

One female

character, Ingrid Lindgren, shows considerable strength.

When

the starship's captain becomes unable to function, she takes over

most of

his tasks.

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

xlix

III In spite of the fact that

women have

either been most sf, there about women. Sam

ignored or assigned traditional roles in is

a small branch of

Moskowitz .

.

writes:

there

.

sf specifically

is

one theme spotlighting the female sex been regarded as legiti-

which, since the beginning, has



mately within the province of science fiction that is the extrapolation of the woman dominant: the female of the species completely independent of or ruling over the male.^^

Among

the works Moskowitz cites as examples of this

genre are The Coming Race by Edward BulwerLytton (1874), Mizora by Mary E. Lane (under the pseudonym Princess Vera Zaravitch), published in " by Robert Barr 1890, and "The Revolt of the (1894).

Most

of

these

however, are their

works dealing with matriarchies,

more a

reflection of the fears or wishes of

authors than serious

Many of which men do

extrapolations.

them simply involve role-reversal (in housework and women hold power) or they depict farawav or future states in which the women are portrayed as more barbaric than men might be in similar circumstances (male children are killed; a few men are kept or captured for breeding). Sometimes the stories end with a battle scene; some of the 22

Rule

Sam Moskowitz, "When Women Rule," (New York, Walker, 1972) ed. Sam

in

When Women

Moskowitz,

p.

1.

This interesting anthology contains an informative essay by

Moskowitz and several little-known dominant women.

stories

on the theme of

PAMELA SARGENT surviving a

women

1

men and

decide to mate with

more "natural" cycle. The theme of dominant women

is

begin

present in some

sf as well. In John Wyndham's "Consider Her Ways" ( 1956 ) a woman of the twentieth century visits the future and finds a matriarchy; men are extinct. This future society is antlike. The idea that a female societ)^ would be static and much like an insect societ)^ is one that others besides W\'nd-

twentieth-century

,

ham have

held.

He

does, however, include several

passages condemning the role assigned to twentieth-

century women.

Drones (New York, Norton, 1969), a novel for young readers, an expedition from Africa journe\s to Britain five hundred vears after an atomic holocaust. The expedition believes that only black Africans have survived the disaster, but in Britain it soon meets a womandominated society modeled on insect life. The Africans, coming from a societv in which men and women In A. M. Lightner's The

Day

of the

are treated equalh', are appalled at the cruelty present

But the Africans also realize that rigidh' stratified and prejudiced

in the British societv. their

own

society,

.

against those with lighter skins, has

its

cruel ten-

dencies as well. In her novel, Lightner has used her

female-dominant

societv

to

enlighten

the

reader,

male-dominant societies were equally cruel. She has also provided a logical reason for the development of the matriarchy. Insect life is the only form of animal life to have survived on the British Isles; the human survivors have accordingly modeled their societ\' on it.

pointing

Some

out

that

science fiction

and fantasv

prefers

to

deal

with the possibilitv that women are alread\' dominant in some way, disguising this dominance with a

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

One

li

example of this kind of story is Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (first published in 1943 and reprinted in WitcJies Three, Twayne, 1952), in which the women are in fact witches, protecting and guiding the lives of their men with spells and incantations. The heroine's husband is skeptical of his wife's "superstitions" and forces her to dispose of her charms and amulets, not realizing that she has been protecting him from harm. The novel takes place at a small New England college and the interdepartmental faculty politics are realistically portrayed. A variation on this theme can be found in "The Misogynist" by James Gunn (1952). This story advances the assumption that women are in fact aliens from another world. One male character cites as evidence the "facts" that wives can easily find objects their husbands misplace, that women furnish homes

mask

with

of submission.

all

kinds

of

brilliant

purposeless

devices,

that

their

women have and that women

thought processes are alien to men, that cold and

clammy

feet at night in bed,

are uninterested in sports, intellectual matters

other such things. These "alien" controlling things.

They

women

and

are in fact

are seen as parasites with

few

abilities of their own except a talent for living off of hard-working, creative and adventurous men. This ambivalent story has apparently struck a resonant

chord in some readers. It has been reprinted times, once as recently as 1974. Poul Anderson, in Virgin Planet (Bouregy 1959), set his satirical story on an alien world

many

&

Co.,

where only the female descendants of an Earth colony have survived. A man lands there and finds these women very curious about his penis. The women have been praying that a group of men would join them. A more serious exploration of this theme appeared

— PAMELA SARGENT in Philip Wylie's

lii

The Disappearance

(Holt, Rinehart,

1951 ) in which each sex mysteriously disappears and both men and women find themselves in a world populated entireh' b\' their own sex. Four years pass ,

men and women are reunited; during that time, each sex begins to explore the mixed feelings it has toward the other. One character, Paula Gaunt, savs: before

They

you to school and made you work and told you good marks meant everything You went to sent

.

.

.

You studied. You earned degrees. You married. And then what? You had to learn a lot of new things college.

about running a house and raising babies We were forever told we were equal and forever being kept from behaving equally. We were brought up to think of ourselves as independent and then forced into dependence.^ .

.

.





Paula's husband. Bill Gaunt, also has time in his

world

to

male

do some thinking:

In the demeaning of woman man has demeaned himself. His chivalry, his mother reverence, are but sickly pretenses to hide his ageless, vile convictions. What would we say of any other beast that held its mate in secret revulsion?

What do we

and then devours

its

feel of the spider that copulates

mate? Let that be said of humanity!-*

By the time the two sexes are reunited, there is some hope that humanity will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

During 1972, two more examples of the dominantappeared: Regiment of Women, by Thomas Berger (Simon & Schuster) and "\\Tien It Changed," by Joanna Russ. Berger's novel was an-

woman theme

23 Philip

W\lie,

The Disappearance

Books, 1966), p. 273. 24 Wylie, pp.

246-247.

(New

York,

Pocket

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

Other "role-reversal" story. Although

good points about the (

football, for instance,

men

is

to play, because

genitals),

it

it

silliness of sex-role

liii

makes some stereotyping

considered too dangerous for

it

is

difficult to

is basically a skillful

protect their

reworking of some

very old ground.

from the usual way of treating dominant women. Her women characters, the descendants of an Earth colony stranded on a planet called Whileaway, are depicted as sensible, fairly normal people instead of as super-Amazonian warriors, barbarians, or an antlike hive. The women have been able, with the aid of their scientific equipment, to Russ's story

is

a departure

breed parthenogenetically;

all

men

died shortly after

the expedition arrived.

The descendants of the expedition live in a society where each woman does what best suits her, unencumbered by imposed roles. Lesbian relationships are formed and the culture is a viable one. When men from Earth arrive, they appear alien to these women. The daughter of one character expresses amusement at the notion that anyone would desire a man sexually. The men, all of whom profess their belief in women's equality, are actually surprised that the women have survived and soon begin to adopt "protective" and "chivalrous" attitudes toward them. "When It Changed" won the Nebula Award, given annually by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Yet it was also severely criticized in some science-fiction publications. It is a bit odd that readers should feel threatened by a story in which well-characterized, likable

out men, fiction in

when

there

is

women

can get along with-

such an abundance of science

which well-characterized,

along without women.

likable

men

get

PAMELA SARGENT

liv

The theme of dominant women in science fiction is an interesting one, but it has never played a very large role in the genre. It has tended, consciously or unconsciousl)-, to reflect

the belief that the sexes are at war

with each other and that peace can be bought only with the dominance of one sex over the other. It has often been propagandistic rather than truly extrapolative.

The notion

that the sexes could live

and work

together harmoniously, in an equal fashion, was rarely

considered and

is still

being questioned.

IV It is a popular idea that technological developments have taken place with such rapidit)' that they seem to have outrun our capacity for dealing with them. Despite the ongoing changes in our customs, ethical

systems and societal structures, living in

ways that

we

are

largely

still

do not take account

either

of our

technological tools or are allowing the technolog)^ to rule us, deciding things for us as nature has

done

in

the past.

We

have arrived at one of the crucial periods of where the decisions we make (or refuse to make) will have drastic consequences. We mav inadvertently be forced to return to former ways of life, and our former roles, if complex technological and history

ecological systems collapse.

and indeed

for all

human

The

options for

beings,

women,

would accordingly

decrease. We mav continue to allow our technologv to develop in an unplanned way, with unforeseen consequences not easily reversed or remedied. This situation

is

likely to

our goals, our

develop

priorities,

if

we do

not begin to consider

and possible or present

scien-

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

Iv

developments which may help us to achieve them. It will not help any of us to reject technology and scientific research out of hand. It is easy to understand why this is the path some might wish to take; it is even easier to understand why women in particular might ^iew technology with alarm. Women have had little to >ay about how science and technology should be used, md they have had even less to do with research and the development of new tools. They may view techQology as one of the tools of male dominance, and scientific research as a robber of funds that might tiave been better spent. But this is a mistaken view. tific

is, after all, only a tool. It has no values, save an imperative to learn as much about our univ^erse as we can know. Science and her handmaiden, lechnology, can only show us what is possible, what is known and what is left to be learned. They pose ques-

Science 3ne:

up

tions. It is

Further those aspects of

valuable

how

to all of us to decide

human

life

that

and necessary. Mailer, in The Prisoner of

Norman ...

to use

we

them

to

decide are

Sex, has written:

had been the attempt of the 5xpIoited to define themselves as men, and present attempts (since power was now technological) were to if

achieve

past revolutions

command

of techniques, then the female revolu-

Women's Liberation

tion.

tendency to technologize .

.

.

would have an

itself,

women

.

.

inbuilt

.

technology, by extending man's power over nature,

reduced him before

women

.

.

.

Indeed, in a technological time when the historical tendency was to homogenize the work-and-leisure patterns of

men and women

arrive

(

because that made

it

easier to design

oncoming social machine) so a time might which would be relatively free of cultural con-

the world's

PAMELA SARGENT ditioning,

Ivi

and then males and females might

virtually

cease to exist.^^

was a technology which looked to manipulate the genes more than one piece of engineering would yet take up squatter's rights in the ovum. The extra-uterine womb, which he had assumed in his innocence was the end of the road, was only the road which led to the theater where they were looking to operate on .

.

there

.

.

.

.



the Lord, yes, genetic engineering "could conceivably be

used

man — ing

whole new breed of man capable of changing sex after birth and chang-

in the distant future to create a

it

repeatedly."^^

There is some truth in Mailer's statements. There is also, however, an almost morbid fear of technology interwoven with Mailer's idiosyncratic metaphysical views. Technology has altered our living patterns and promises to do so in the future. Medical and agricultural advances in particular have produced a situation in which the world has become overpopulated, thereby making motherhood, a primary occupation for women, not only unnecessary to some degree but socially irresponsible when unplanned or carried to excess. We must begin to consider not only the proper and constructive uses of science and technology, but also

experimentation. Astronomer-exobiologist

social

Carl Sagan writes:

We

should be encouraging social, economic, and politexperimentation on a massive scale in all countries. Instead, the opposite seems to be occurring. ical

.

25

Norman

Brown, 1971

Mailer, ),

The

Prisoner

of

Sex

(

.

.

Boston,

Little,

pp. 67, 127, 169.

26 Mailer, p. 214. Mailer

is quoting from David M. Rorvik's Your Baby's Sex: Noto You Can Choose (New York, Bantam,

1971).

WOMEN AND We

SCIENCE FICTION

should not be surprised

...

if

Ivii

experimental com-

munities fail. Only a small fraction of mutations succeed. But the advantage social mutations have over biological

mutations is that individuals learn; the participants in unsuccessful communal experiments are able to assess the reasons for failure and can participate in later experiments that attempt to avoid the consequences of initial failure.

There should be not only popular approval experiments, but also official government support

such for them. Volunteers for such experiments in Utopia facing long odds for the benefit of society as a vs^hole will, I hope, be thought of as men and women of exemplary courage. They are the cutting edge of the future.^^ for

— —

Such experimental communities offer many possibilfor women, and some women are already living in such communities. Aided by the thoughtful use of scientific tools, such experiments may open the way to

ities

new experiences But what rations?

is

for all people.

the role of science fiction in such explo-

Science fiction can be seen as a part of

futurological

research.

Futurological

institutes

and

futurologists allied with educational institutions are

actively

engaged

in thinking about the future.

They

look for social trends, possible and probable techno-

developments and their uses, and in some cases they affect the present and the future by the kinds of advice they give to groups and businesses that use

logical

their

services.^^

27 Carl

Individuals

in

various

disciplines,

New

York, Double-

Sagan, The Cosmic Connection

day- Anchor Press, 1973),

(

p. 38.

28

The advice given by some "think tanks" to the military during American involvement in the Vietnamese war is one unfortunate example, and points out the necessity for considering priorities and values in the use we make of such work.

The "think tanks" simply

discuss

what

is

possible in both the

.

PAMELA SARGENT

Iviii

such as city planning, sociology, law and engineering,

among

others, are exploring possible future develop-

ments

in

and scientists are speculative works written for

their fields.

Journalists

exploring the future in the general public.^^

Thoughtful science ideas in a

way

fiction

can present speculative

these nonfiction works cannot. It can

show us the future

as

it

might be experienced by

its

inhabitants. It can show us how diflFerent developments might affect individuals and their customs, problems that could arise, and how the future might feel. It can also aid us in questioning our own ideas and assumptions by giving us a different perspective. All women and indeed all people should seek to familiarize themselves with these futurological explorations. An acquaintance with scientific advances and their possible results is important if we are to make informed decisions about our society's future. We can no longer think only in terms of what will happen in

the next ten years, or even in our

own

world is changing too rapidly for amine our values in the context

that.

present and the future. advice.

It is

up

to us to

Herman Kahn's assessment

lifetimes.

We

must

in

ex-

of these changes.

decide

how

to use

such

of the probable results of

nuclear warfare, as hideous and dehumanizing as

may have helped

The

making the thought

it

seems,

of such warfare un-

thinkable.

Among them are The Biological Time Bomb by Gordon (New York, New American Library, 1968), Future Shock by Alvin ToflBer (New York, Random House, 1970), Man Into Superman by R. C. W. Ettinger (New York, St. 29

Rattray Taylor

Martin's, 1972),

(New

York,

The Future

Ballantine,

by John McHale The Prometheus Project by

of the Future

1969),

Gerald Feinberg (New York, Doubleday- Anchor, 1969), and Inquiry Into the Human Prospect by Robert L. Heilbroner ( New York, Norton, 1974 )

An

WOMEN AND People

who

SCIENCE FICTION

lix

believe they are not gifted in scientific

thought or intellectual discipline ( and most often such preconceptions are culturally induced) can, and should, take part in such explorations. Science, after all, begins with the asking of questions and the desire to learn. This is a quality all people share, not only the "intellectually gifted" or "educated." If women do not

want men

to

make

their future for them, they

explore these problems. Science fiction

doing

one

tool for

this.

Science fiction opens the mind.

with

is

must

its

old-fashioned

Even the worst

adventure

characters, can sometimes serve this purpose.

genre

sf

contains

bad

writing,

heroines and villains. But

it

sf,

and stereotyped

Much

stereotyped heroes,

also provides the reader

with some understanding of the immensity of our

whose ways of thinking are completely different from ours, can give the reader an understanding of what it might be like to deal with intelligent beings who do not have our universe.

The

aliens in these novels,

preconceptions.

At its best, science fiction can also provide a new and different literary experience. This fact has often been obscured by the pulp origins of the genre in the United States. To this day much sf, still influenced by these origins, seems to be primarily escapist adventure,

saturated with male-oriented

power

fantasies.

Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, Carol Emshwiller, Thomas M. Disch, Kate Wilhelm, Barry Malzberg and R. A. Lafferty, among others, have brought literary But writers such

as

and a deeper exploration of ideas to their science Newer writers such as George R. R. Martin, Vonda N, Mclntyre, James Tiptree, Jr., Gardner R. Dozois, Jack Dann, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Geo. skill

fiction.

PAMELA SARGENT

Ix

Alec Effinger, Doris Piserchia, Joe W. Haldeman, Joan D. Vinge, George Zebrowski, Gregory Benford

and Edward Bryant show great promise in developing both literary skills and original ideas in their science fiction.

Science fiction can provide scenarios for their

own

women

with possible

future development. Other

can show us women imprisoned by attitudes toward them, at odds with what is expected of them, or making the best of their situation in present or past societies. The branch of popular literature literature

written

women

explicitly

for

women,

the

"gothic,"

to primarily passive, victimlike roles.

limits

Only

sf

can show us women in entirely new or strange surroundings. It can explore what we might become if and when the present restrictions on our lives vanish, or show us new problems and restrictions that might arise. It can show us the remarkable woman as normal where past literature shows her as the exception. Will we become more like men, ul-

and fantasy

literature

timately indistinguishable from faults

and

ess?

How

all

their

new concerns and perhaps changing men in the proc-

virtues, or will

values to society,

we

them with

bring

will biological advances,

and the greater

control they will bring us over our bodies, affect us?

What might happen

if

women

in

the future

are

thrown back into a situation in which male dominance might reassert itself? What might actually happen if women were dominant? How might future economic systems affect our societal roles? These are only a few of the questions that can be explored fictionally by sf writers. Even unpretentious and lively adventure novels can explore these issues in the ways in which they make use of their female, male and aHen characters.

WOMEN AND

SCIENCE FICTION

Ixi

A

whole essay could be written about innovative sf works dealing with women. Sexual equality was an ideal in E. E. Smith's "Lensmen" series, published during the 1930s and '40s. A memorable female character dominates Stanley Weinbaum's novel The Black Flame (Fantasy Press, 1948). A. E. van Vogt has portrayed impressive, almost frightening, women, notably the Empress Innelda in the "weapons shop" stories. Philip K.

Dick has included many important

female characters in his works, among them judo instructor Juliana Frink (in The Man in the High Castle) and Ella Runciter,

him

whose husband depends

decisions (in Ubik, on her to aid Doubleday, 1969). I suspect that women may play an important role in the futures depicted in foreign science fiction, one obvious example being Ivan Yefremov's Andromeda (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959). Science fiction at its best could be seen as superior to the culture around it in its attitudes toward human rights, despite the crudities which can be found in genre sf. A body of better works by male authors exhibit sane and sometimes innovative attitudes. Thus

we

in business

see the culture at large a£Fecting a forward-look-

ing literature and deforming

the same sf.

If

we

way

as

it

to a degree,

much

in

pulp-genre strictures have deformed

non-genre sf, the apparent, while they would bewe looked at larger samples of

limit ourselves to the best

would be less come more visible if effects

lesser, repetitiously

patterned works which

what we mean by a genre. pointing out serious lacks,

make up

have been interested in however, rather than in

I

writing an appreciation of virtues. Science-fiction novels for

young

adults

and children

can also offer role models for younger readers. This

PAMELA SARGENT

Ixii

has happened often enough in the past for boys, as

pointed out earher. There

be true for

is

no reason why

this

I

cannot

young readers by Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, A. M. Lightner and Robert Heinlein ( who, in spite of the faults of some of girls as well. Nov^els for

female characters, has a talent for writing engrossing stories with realistic details) can, like all good children's literature, be enjoyed by adults as well.

his

should be noted that

It

work

much

of the trulv innovative

are,

remains to be done. There however, signs that the field is changing. Part of

this

is

in science fiction

due

to the

still

growing numbers of

women

entering

the field as wTiters, and to the changing views of

some

male wTiters. One well-known author and Harlan Ellison, has said:

of the tor,

.

.

.

women

many

are writing

of the things

edi-

male

sf

writers thought could never be written; they are opening

up whole new areas to us; they are making us examine and shibboleths we thought were immutable. The mightily thewed warrior trip is one of these. People like Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, and Doris Piserchia are making that seem hideously ridiculous.^^ tenets

But

real changes in the genre are also

dependent on

Much of science fiction is a popular literaand much of it is likelv to remain so. It must

the readers. ture,

and entertain mean, however, that satisfy

readership.

its it

cater only to those desiring 30 Arthur

This does not

must be simple-minded or

good escapist reading.

B)ron Cover, "Vertex Interviews Harlan

(

It

Ellison,"

was reChanged" bv Joanna

in Vertex (Vol. 2, No. 1, April 1974), p. 37. Ellison

sponsible for the publication of

"When

It

Russ in his anthology Again, Dangerous Visions Doubledav, 1972).

(New

York,

WOMEN AND also does not

Some

mean

SCIENCE FICTION

Ixiii

that serious works are not enter-

and most serious sf is also the most entertaining.) If more women begin to take an interest in sf and the scientific and futurological ideas involved, publishers will have an interest in publishing and writers in writing novels exploring such ideas from different perspectives. If, however, publishers and writers can do better with the old stereotypes and have little reason to believe that readers want anything else, women will remain minor characters, and familiar roles and prejudices will be a major part of the literature. Only dedicated writers and publishers willing to take a risk would then provide more thoughtful works. It is up to us, both as writers and as readers, to taining.

of the best

begin exploring the unfamiliar, to acquaint ourselves with scientific and futurological concerns, and to give serious thought to what we are and what we would like to become.

A

few words about concern was to present

this

anthology:

My

primary

and which

entertaining, thoughtful

women, in women characters play important roles. The number of stories I could include was necessarily limited,

well-written science-fiction stories by

by considerations of space and partly because of my own limitations on the kind of story I wanted for the book. There were others, equally as fine and engrossing, that I could have chosen, but some were too long and others too much like stories I had already decided to include. I have tried to give the reader as

partly

many

The reader should gain some

different kinds of stories as I could.

unfamiliar

with science

fiction

PAMELA SARGENT understanding of the

many

Ixiv

different types of stories sf

can present and the kinds of ideas explored in them. The reader famiHar with science fiction should recognize some old friends in these pages, and may be drawn to consider the literature and its ideas from another perspective.

WOMEN OF WONDER

THE CHILD The is

child

dreams that her dream

faster than light,

because

we promised

her that's

would come

for her.

she will

slip

away

how

death

Queen

at her

own

of the sky,

speed,

and dreams of rockets big enough to lift above the oceans. She soars through the universe, leaving cliffs where her family hangs; she will not be Andromeda,

bound

to a rock until the prince comes, but fly on her own from our stifling kitchens.

The prince

is

a figment

of our boring legends, he

is

the gravity her sleep-ship

may

escape from. Dressed in a red shift, she's always a world

ahead of

his weight.

— Sonya Dorman

TNAT ONLY A

MOTHER JUDITH MERRIL Judith Merril was born in of a playwright

and

New

critic in

York City, the daughter

the Yiddish theater. She has

written adventure, western and suspense fiction, but she best known for her writing and editing in science fiction. Her novels include Shadow on the Hearth (Doubleday), The Tomorrow People (Pyramid), Mars Child (Abelard) and Gunner Cade (Simon & Schuster), the last two written with C. M. Kornbluth under the joint pseudonym Cyril Judd. Her story collections include Out of Bounds (Pyramid), The Daughters of Earth (Dell), and Survival Ship and Other Stories (Kakabeka). As an editor, Ms. Merril's influence on the field has been of great importance. Throughout the late fifties and early is

sixties,

she edited annual collections of the best

of the year, in addition to such anthologies as

sf stories

Beyond the

and Time (Random House) and England Swings SF (Doubleday). She was one of those responsible Barriers of Space

for

bringing British science

fiction,

with

its

experimenta-

form and subject matter during the early 1960s, to the attention of American readers. She now lives in Canada. tion in

"That Only a Mother" was Judith Merril's first sciencePublished in Astounding magazine in 1948, it reflects a concern with atomic weapons and shows us a world which they might have given us. The story is a warning; it is also a moving tale about a mother, her child, and the effect of atomic war on them. Such wars, we see, can never really be over.

fiction story.

JUDITH MERRIL

6

Margaret reached over to the other side of the bed where Hank should have been. Her hand patted the empt\' pillow, and then she came altogether awake, wondering that the old habit should remain after so man\- months. She tried to curl up, cat-style, to hoard her own warmth, found she couldn't do it any more, and climbed out of bed with a pleased awareness of her increasingly clumsy bulkiness. Morning motions were automatic. On the way through the kitchenette, she pressed the button that would start breakfast cooking— the doctor had said to eat as much breakfast as she could— and tore the paper out of the facsimile machine. She folded the long sheet carefully to the "National News" section, and propped it on the bathroom shelf to scan while she brushed her teeth.

No

No

none that had been oflBciallv released for publication. Now, Maggie, don't get started on that. No accidents. No hits. Take the nice newspaper s word for it. The three clear chimes from the kitchen announced that breakfast was ready. She set. a bright napkin and cheerful colored dishes on the table in a futile attempt to appeal to a fault)' morning appetite. Then, when there was nothing more to prepare, she went for the accidents.

direct hits.

At

least

mail, allowing herself the full pleasure of prolonged anticipation, because today there

would

surely be a

letter.

There was. There were.

Two

note from her mother: "Darling.

bills

Why

and a worried you write

didn't

and tell me sooner? I'm thrilled, of course, but, well, one hates to mention these things, but are you certain the doctor was right? Hank's been around all that uranium or thorium or whatever it is all these years, and I know you say he's a designer, not a technician.

THAT ONLY A MOTHER

7

and he doesn't get near anything that might be dangerous, but you know he used to, back at Oak Ridge. well, of course, I'm just being a Don't you think foolish old woman, and I don't want you to get upset. You know much more about it than I do, and I'm sure ." your doctor was right. He should know Margaret made a face over the excellent cofiFee, and .

.

.

.

.

caught herself refolding the paper to the medical news. Stop it, Maggie, stop it! The radiologist said Hank's job couldn't have exposed him. And the bombed area No, no. Stop it, now! Read the we drove past .

.

.

social notes or the recipes,

A

well-known

Maggie

geneticist, in the

girl.

medical news, said

was possible to tell with absolute certainty, at five months, whether the child would be normal, or at least whether the mutation was likely to produce anything freakish. The worst cases, at any rate, could be prevented. Minor mutations, of course, displacements that

it

in facial features, or

not be detected.

changes in brain structure could

And

there

had been some

cases re-

normal embryos with atrophied limbs that

cently, of

did not develop beyond the seventh or eight month. But, the doctor concluded cheerfully, the worst cases

could

now be

predicted and prevented.

"Predicted and prevented."

we? Hank and didn't prevent *47.

Now

.

.

We

predicted

the others, they predicted

it.

We

could have stopped

it

it.

it,

didn't

But we

in *46

and

.

Margaret decided against the breakfast. Coffee had been enough for her in the morning for ten years; it would have to do for today. She buttoned herself into interminable folds of material that, the salesgirl had

assured her, was the only comfortable thing to wear during the last few months. With a surge of pure

!

JUDITH MERRIL pleasure, the letter

and newspaper forgotten, she

ized she was on the next to the be long now.

The

8

last button. It

real-

wouldn't

morning had always been a special kind of excitement for her. Last night it had rained, and the sidewalks were still damp-gray instead city in the early

of dusty.

woman,

The

smelled the fresher, to a city-bred

air

for the occasional

pungency

of acrid factory

smoke. She walked the six blocks to work, watching the lights go out in the all-night hamburger joints, where the plate-glass walls were already catching the sun, and the lights go on in the dim interiors of cigar

and dry-cleaning establishments. The ofiBce was in a new Government building. In

stores

the rolovator, on the

way

up, she

felt,

as always, like a

frankfurter roll in the ascending half of an old-style

abandoned the air-foam the fourteenth floor, and

rotary toasting machine. She

cushioning settled

gratefully

down behind

at

her desk, at the rear of a long

row of identical desks. Each morning the pile of papers that greeted her was a little higher. These were, as everyone knew, the decisive months. The war might be won or lost on these calculations as well as any others. The manpower oflBce had switched her here when her old expediter's job got to be too strenuous. The computer was easy to operate, and the work was absorbing, if not as exciting as the old job. But you didn't just stop

working these days. Everyone who could do anything at all was needed. And—she remembered the interview with the psychologist—I'm probably the unstable type. Wonder what sort of neurosis I'd get sitting home reading that sensational paper

.

.

.

THAT ONLY A MOTHER

9

She plunged into the work without pursuing the thought.

February

Hank

18.

darling,

Just a

note— from the

hospital,

at work, and the doctor took

it

no

less. I

had

a dizzy spell

to heart. Blessed

if I

know

what I'll do with myself lying in bed for weeks, just waiting —but Dr. Boyer seems to think it may not be so long. There are too many newspapers around here. More inand they can't seem to get a jury to convict any of them. It's the fathers who do it. Lucky thing you're not around, in case— Oh, darling, that wasn't a very funny joke, was it? Write as often as you can, will you? I have too much time to think. But there really isn't anything wrong, and nothing to worry about. Write often, and remember I love you. Maggie. fanticides all the time,

SPECIAL SERVICE TELEGRAM

FEBRUARY 22:04

FROM: TECH. UEUT.

H.

21, 1953

LK37G

MARVELL

X47-016 GCNY TO: MRS. H.

MARVELL WOMEN'S HOSPITAL NEW YORK CITY

HAD DOCTOR'S GRAM STOP WILL ARRIVE FOUR OH TEN STOP SHORT LEAVE STOP YOU DID IT MAGGIE STOP LOVE HANK February 25.

Hank

dear,

So you didn't see the baby either? You'd think a place this size would at least have visiplates on the incubators.

JUDITH MERRIL so the fathers could get a look, even

mommas week,

They tell me maybe more— but

can't.

or

warned me

if

I

didn't slow

10

if

the poor benighted

won't see her for another

I

of

my

course,

mother always

pace, I'd probably even

have my babies too fast. Why must she always be right? Did you meet that battle-ax of a nurse they put on here? I imagine they save her for people who've already had theirs, and don't let her get too near the prospectives —but a woman like that simply shouldn't be allowed in a She's obsessed with mutations, can't about anything else. Oh, well, ours is all right, even if it was in an unholy hurry. I'm tired. They warned me not to sit up so soon, but

maternity

seem

I

ward.

to talk

had

to write you. All

my love,

darling,

Maggie.

February 29. Darling, I finally

got to see her!

It's all

true,

what they say about

new

babies and the face that only a mother could lovebut it's all there, darling, eyes, ears, and noses— no, only

one!— all in the right places. We're so lucky. Hank. I'm afraid I've been a rambunctious patient. I kept telling that hatchet-faced female with the mutation mania that

I

wanted

to "explain"

to see the baby. Finally the doctor

everything to me, and talked a

lot of

came

in

nonsense,

most of which I'm sure no one could have understood, any more than I did. The only thing I got out of it was that she didn't actually have to stay in the incubator; they just thought it was "wiser." I think I got a little hysterical at that point. Guess I was more worried than I was willing to admit, but I threw a small fit about it. The whole business wound up with one of those hushed medical conferences outside the door, and finally the Woman in White said: "Well, we might as well. Maybe it'll work out better that way." I'd heard about the way doctors and nurses in these places develop a God complex, and believe me it is as

THAT ONLY A MOTHER true figuratively as

it is

11

a mother hasn't got a

literally that

leg to stand on around here. I

am

awfully weak,

still. I'll

write again soon. Love,

Maggie.

March

8.

Dearest Hank, Well, the nurse was wrong

if she told you that. She's easier to tell with babies girl. It's It's a anyhow. an idiot than with cats, and I know. How about Henrietta? I'm home again, and busier than a betatron. They got everything mixed up at the hospital, and I had to teach myself how to bathe her and do just about everything else. She's getting prettier, too. When can you get a leave, a

real leave?

Love, Maggie.

May Hank

26.

dear.

You should see her now— and you shall. I'm sending along a reel of color movie. My mother sent her those nighties with drawstrings all over. I put one on, and right now she looks like a snow-white potato sack with that blooming on top. Is that a doting mother? But wait till you see

beautiful, beautiful flower-face

me

talking?

Am

I

her!

July 10. .

.

.

talk,

Believe

and

I

it

or not, as

don't

you

mean baby

she's a dental assistant in the

like,

but your daughter can Alice discovered it-

talk,

WACs, you know— and when

she heard the baby giving out what of gibberish, she said the kid

I

thought was a string

knew words and

sentences,

but couldn't say them clearly because she has no teeth yet. I'm taking her to a speech specialist.

September .

.

.

We

teeth are

13.

have a prodigy for real! Now that all her front in, her speech is perfectly clear and— a new

JUDITH MERRIL

12

now— she

can sing! I mean really carry a tune! At seven months! Darling my world would be perfect if you

talent

could only get home.

November

...

at last.

The

little

goon was so busy being

19.

clever,

it

time to learn to crawl. The doctor says development in these cases is always erratic

took her

all this

.

.

.

SPECIAL SERVICE TELEGRAM

DECEMRER 08:47

FROM: TECH. LIEUT.

H.

1,

1953

LK59F

MARVELL

X47-016 GCNY TO: MRS. H. MARVELL APT. K-IT 504 E. 19 ST. N.Y. N.Y.

WEEK'S LEAVE STARTS TOMORROW STOP WILL ARRIVE AIRPORT TEN OH FIVE STOP DON'T MEET ME STOP LOVE LOVE LOVE HANK Margaret

let

the water run out of the bathinette until

only a few inches were

left,

and then loosed her hold

on the wriggling baby. "I think it was better when you were retarded, young woman," she informed her daughter happily. "You cant crawl in a bathinette, you know." "Then why can't I go in the bathtub?" Margaret was used to her child's volubility by now, but every now and then it caught her unawares. She swooped the resistant mass of pink flesh into a towel, and began to rub.

"Because you're too little, and your head soft, and bathtubs are very hard."

is

very

THAT ONLY A MOTHER "Oh. Then

"When

when can I go

in the bathtub?"

the outside of your head

inside, brainchild."

13

as

hard as the

She reached toward a

pile of fresh

is

clothing. "I cannot understand," she added, pinning a

square of cloth through the nightgown, "why a child of your intelligence can't learn to keep a diaper on the

way

other babies do. They've been used for centuries,

you know, with perfectly

The

satisfactory results."

had heard it too she had been tucked,

child disdained to reply; she

She waited patiently until clean and sweet-smelling, into a white-painted crib. Then she favored her mother with a smile that inevitably made Margaret think of the first golden edge of the sun bursting into a rosy predawn. She remembered Hank's reaction to the color pictures of his beautiful daughter, and with the thought, realized often.

how late

it

was.

"Go to sleep, puss. When you wake up, you know, your daddy will be here." "Why?" asked the four-year-old mind, waging a losing battle to keep the ten-month-old body awake. Margaret went into the kitchenette and set the timer for the roast. She examined the table, and got her clothes

from the

new

closet,

new

dress,

new

shoes,

new

and saved stopped to pull She for the day Hank's telegram came. a paper from the facsimile, and, with clothes and news, went into the bathroom, and lowered herself gingerly into the steaming luxury of a scented tub. She glanced through the paper with indifferent interest. Today at least there was no need to read the national news. There was an article by a geneticist. The same geneticist. Mutations, he said, were increasing disproportionately. It was too soon for recessives; slip,

everything, bought weeks before

JUDITH MERRIL

14

even the first mutants, bom near Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1946 and 1947 were not old enough yet to breed. But my baby's all right. Apparently, there was some degree of free radiation from atomic explosions causing the trouble. My baby's fine. Precocious, but normal. If more attention had been paid to the first Japanese mutations, he said There was that little notice in the paper in the spring of '47. That was when Hank quit at Oak Ridge. "Only 2 or 3 percent of those guilty of infanticide are ." But being caught and punished in Japan today .

.

.

.

.

MY baby's all right. She was dressed, combed, and ready to the last light brush-on of lip paste, when the door chime sounded. She dashed for the door, and heard for the first time in eighteen months the almost-forgotten sound of a key turning in the lock before the chime had quite died away. "Hank!" "Maggie!" And then there was nothing to say. So many days, so

many months,

things to

of small

now

him, and

tell

news

staring at a khaki uniform

piling up, so

many

she just stood there,

and a

stranger's pale face.

She traced the features with the finger of memory.

The same high-bridged

nose,

wide-set

eyes,

fine

feathery brows; the same long jaw, the hair a little farther back now on the high forehead, the same tilted curve to his mouth. Pale ... Of course, he'd been

underground cause of

lost

all this

time.

And

familiarity than

strange, stranger be-

any newcomer's face

could be.

She had time to think all that before his hand reached out to touch her, and spanned the gap of eighteen months.

Now,

again, there

was nothing

to

THAT ONLY A MOTHER

15

because there was no need. They were together, and for the moment that was enough. "Where's the baby?" "Sleeping. She'll be up any minute." No urgency. Their voices were as casual as though it were a daily exchange, as though war and separation did not exist. Margaret picked up the coat he'd thrown on the chair near the door, and hung it carefully in the hall closet. She went to check the roast, leaving him to wander through the rooms by himself, remembering and coming back. She found him, finally, standing over the baby's crib. She couldn't see his face, but she had no need to. "I think we can wake her just this once." Margaret pulled the covers down and lifted the white bundle from the bed. Sleepy lids pulled back heavily from say,

smoky brown

eyes.

"Hello." Hank's voice

"Hello."

was

The baby's

tentative.

assurance

was

more

pro-

nounced.

He had

heard about

the same as hearing

it.

it,

He

of course, but that wasn't turned eagerly to Margaret.

"She really can—?" "Of course she can, darling. But what's more important, she can even do nice normal things like other babies do, even stupid ones. Watch her crawl!" Margaret set the baby on the big bed. For a moment young Henrietta lay and eyed her parents dubiously.

"Crawl?" she asked.

Your daddy is new around here, you know. He wants to see you show off." "Then put me on my tummy." "Oh, of course." Margaret obligingly rolled the baby "That's the idea.

over.

JUDITH MERRDL

16

"What's the matter?" Hank's voice was still casual, but an undercurrent in it began to charge the air of the room. "I thought they turned over first." "Tliis baby"— Margaret would not notice the tension— "T/1/5 baby does things when she wants to." This baby's father watched with softening eyes while the head advanced and the body hunched up

propelling

itself

"Why, the

across the bed.

little

He

rascal."

"She looks

burst

into

relieved

one of those potato-sack have on picnics. Got her arms pulled out of the sleeves already." He reached over and grabbed the knot at the bottom of the long laughter.

like

racers they used to

nightie.

do

Margaret tried to get there first. "Don't be silly, Maggie. This may be your first baby, but 7 had five kid brothers." He laughed her away, and reached with his other hand for the string that closed one sleeve. He opened the sleeve bow, and groped for an arm. "I'll

it,

darling."

"The way you wriggle," he addressed his child hand touched a moving knob of flesh at the shoulder, "anyone might think you are a worm, using your tummy to crawl on, instead of your hands and feet." Margaret stood and watched, smiling. "Wait till you sternly, as his

hear her sing, darling—" His right hand traveled

down from the shoulder to where he thought an arm would be, traveled down, and straight down, over firm small muscles that

writhed in an attempt to move against the pressure of his hand. He let his fingers drift up again to the shoulder.

With

infinite care

he opened the knot

at the

bottom of the nightgown. His wife was standing by the bed, saying, "She can do 'Ji^^gl^ Bells,' and—"

THAT ONLY A MOTHER His

left

hand

felt

17

along the soft knitted fabric of the flat

and

child.

No

gown, up toward the diaper that folded, smooth,

the

across

bottom end of

No kicking. No "Maggie." He tried to

wrinkles.

.

.

his

.

pull his

hands from the neat

from the wriggling body. "Maggie." His throat was dry; words came hard, low and grating. He spoke very slowly, thinking the sound of each word to make himself say it. His head was spinning, but he had to know before he let it go. "Maggie, why didn't you tell me?" "Tell you what, darling?" Margaret's poise was the immemorial patience of woman confronted with man's childish impetuosity. Her sudden laugh sounded fantastically easy and natural in that room; it was all clear to her now. "Is she wet? I didn't know." She didn't know. His hands, beyond control, ran up and down the soft-skinned baby body, the sinuous, limbless body. Oh God, dear God— his head shook and his muscles contracted in a bitter spasm of hysteria. His fingers tightened on his child— Oh God, she

fold in the diaper,

.

.

.

.

didn't

know

.

.

.

.

.

CONTAGION KATHERINE MACLEAN Katherine

MacLean began reading and

science fiction at an

was ofiFered a laboratory to do a neural synaptic pathways experiment by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Instead, she temporarily dropped out of science and studied at Barnard College, where she received her B.A. in economics. She has worked as a technician in various hospitals and laboratories, and presently teaches English at the University of Maine as a part-time lecturer. She spends much of her time learning new skills and researching her ideas thoroughly, and her science fiction is marked by careful attention to both character and detail. Her stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies, as well as in a collection. The Diploids (Manor Books). Her novella, "The Missing Man," won the 1972 Nebula Award, given annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America. early age

Women

at fifteen

have often found

their self-esteem or lack of

tied to societal standards of beauty;

many women,

it

is

it

safe to say that

appearance probably determined their lives and the ways in which other people thought of them, as well as their attitudes toward them-

for

their physical

selves.

"Contagion" is, on one level, a story about a group of people who must deal with a rather unusual biological phenomenon on another world. But it is also about physical

appearance and

its

relationship to our personal identity, as

well as to our feelings about others.

18

CONTAGION

19

an Earth forest in the fall, but it was not fall. The forest leaves were green and copper and purple and fiery red, and a wind sent patches of bright greenish sunlight dancing among the leaf shadows. The hunt party of the Explorer filed along the narrow trail, guns ready, walking carefully, listening to It

was

like

the distant, half -familiar cries of strange birds.

A faint

crackle of static in their earphones indicated

gun had been fired. "Got anything?" asked June Walton. The helmet

that a

intercom carried her voice to the ears of the others without breaking the stillness of the forest.

"Took a shot

something,"

at

explained

Barton's cheerful voice in her earphones. She

a

bend

George rounded

and came upon Barton standing the trees, his gun still raised. "It

of the trail

peering up into looked like a duck." "This

isn't

Central

Park,"

said

Hal Barton,

his

coming into sight. His green spacesuit struck an incongruous note against the bronze and red forest. "They won't all be ducks," he said soberly.

brother,

"Maybe some will be dragons. Don't get eaten by a dragon, June," came Max's voice quietly into her earphones. "Not while I still love you." H^ came out of the trees carrying the blood-sample

her glove with

his,

kit,

and touched

the grin on his ugly beloved face

barely visible in the mingled light and shade. of sunlight struck a greenish glint

from

A

patch

his fishbowl

helmet.

They walked

on.

A

quarter of a mile back, the space

ship Explorer towered over the forest like a tapering

and the people of the ship looked out of the viewplates at fresh winds and sunlight and clouds, and they longed to be outside. skyscraper,

KATHERINE MacLEAN

20

But the likeness to Earth was danger, and the cool wind might be death, for if the animals were like Earth animals, their diseases might be like Earth diseases, alike enough to be contagious, different enough to be impossible to treat. There was warning enough in the past. Colonies had vanished, and traveled spaceways drifted with the corpses of ships which had touched on some plague planet. The people of the ship waited while their doctors, in airtight spacesuits, hunted animals to test them for contagion.

The four medicos,

June Walton was also a doctor, filed through the alien homelike forest, walking softh", watching for motion among the copper and purple shadows. Thev saw it suddenly, a lighter, moving, copper patch among the darker browns. Reflex action swning June's gun into line, and behind her someone's gun went off with a faint crackle of static, and made a hole in the leaves beside the specimen. Then for a while no one moved. This one looked like a man, a magnificently muscled, leanly graceful, humanlike animal. Even in its callused bare feet, it was a head taller than anv of them. Red-haired, hawk-faced and darkly tanned, it for

stood breathing heavily, looking at them without ex-

hung

pression.

At

bow was

slung across one wide shoulder.

its

They lowered

side

a sheath knife,

and a

cross-

their guns.

needs a shave," Max said reasonably in their earphones, and he reached up to his helmet and flipped the switch that let his voice be heard. "Something we could do for vou, Mac?" The friendl\' drawl was the first voice that had broken the forest sounds. June smiled suddenly. He "It

CONTAGION was

The

right.

strict logic of

21

evolution did not

demand

beards; therefore a non-human would not be wearing a three-day growth of red stubble.

panting, the

Still

tall

licked dry lips

figure

and

"Welcome to Minos, The mayor sends greetings from Alexandria." "English?" gasped June. "We were afraid you would take off again before I three hundred It's could bring word to you miles We saw your scout plane pass twice, but

spoke.

.

.

.

.

.

.

we couldn't

attract

June looked

in

its

attention."

stunned silence

at the stranger lean-

ing against the tree. Thirty-six light years— thirty-six

times six trillion miles of monotonous space travel— to

be told that the planet was already

know

settled!

there was a colony here," she said.

"We "It's

didn't

not on

the map."

"We were

afraid

the

of that,"

tall

bronze

man

answered soberly. "We tions and no traders have come."

have been here three genera-

Max

shifted

offered a hand.

the

kit

strap

"My name

is

on

Max

shoulder

his

Stark,

M.D.

and

Tliis is

June Walton, M.D., Hal Barton, M.D., and George Barton, Hal's brother, also M.D." "Patrick

Mead

is

the name."

The man

smiled, shak-

ing hands casually. "Just a hunter and bridge car-

penter myself. Never met any medicos before." The grip was effortless, but even through her

air-

proofed glove June could feel that the fingers that touched hers were as hard as padded steel. "What—what is the population of Minos?" she asked.

He

looked

down

at her curiously

for

before answering. "Only one hundred and smiled.

"Don't worry, this

isn't

a

moment fifty."

He

a city planet yet.

KATHERINE MacLEAN

22

few more people." He shook hands with the Bartons quickly. "That is— you are people,

room

There's aren't

for a

you?" he asked

"\Vli\'

not?"

startlingly.

said

Max

with

a

poise

that

June

admired. "Well, you are

all

so— so— " Patrick Mead's eyes

roamed across the faces of the group. "So varied." Thev could find no meanincr in that, and stood puzzled. "I mean," Patrick Mead said into the silence, "all these— interesting different hair colors and face shapes and so forth—" He made a vague wave with one hand as if he had run out of words or was anxious not to insult them. "Joke?" Max asked, bewildered. June laid a hand on his arm. "No harm meant," she

said to

him over the intercom. "We're him as he is to us."

just as

much

of

a shock to

She addressed a question

on outside sound. "What should a person look like, Mr. to the tall colonist

Mead?"

He indicated her wdth

a smile. "Like you."

June stepped closer and stood looking up at him, considering her own description. She was tall and tanned, like him; had a few freckles, like him; and wavy red hair, like his. She ignored the brightly

humorous blue

eyes.

"In other words," she said, "everyone on the planet looks like

Patrick

you and me?"

Mead

and began thought of

took another look at their four faces

to grin. "Like it

me,

colored hair or that noses could faces.

I

But

guess.

I

hadn't

before, that people could have different

Judging by

my own

fit

so

many ways onto

appearance,

I

suppose any

CONTAGION

23

walk on his hands and say the world is upside down!" He laughed and sobered. "But then why wear

fool can

spacesuits?

The

air

breathable."

is

"For safety," June told him. "We can't take any chances on plague." Pat Mead was wearing nothing but his weapons, and the wind ruffled his hair. He looked comfortable, and they longed to take off the stuffy spacesuits and feel the

wind against

their

own

skins.

Minos was Hke

Earth But they were strangers. "Plague," Pat Mead said thoughtfully. "We had one here. It came two years after the colony arrived and killed everyone except the Mead families. They were immune. I guess we look alike because we're all re-

home,

like

.

.

.

and that's why I grew up thinking that it is the way people can look." Plague. "What was the disease?" Hal Barton asked. "Pretty gruesome, according to my father. They called it the melting sickness. The doctors died too

lated,

only

soon to find out what it was or what to do about it." "You should have trained more doctors, or sent to civilization for some." A trace of impatience was in

George Barton's Pat

Mead

voice.

explained patiently, "Our ship, with the

we

needed, went off into the sky to avoid the contagion, and never came back. The crew must have died." Long years of hardship were indicated by that statement, a colony with

power plant and

all

the books

power gone and machinery stilled, with key and no way to replace them. June realized then the full meaning of the primitive sheath knife and bow. "Any recurrence of melting sickness?" asked Hal electric

technicians dead

Barton.

KATHERINE MacLEAN

24

"No."

"Anv other

diseases?"

"Not a one."

Max was

eying the bronze red-headed figure with

something approaching awe. "Do you think all the Meads look like that?" he said to June on the intercom. "I wouldn't mind being a Mead myself!" Their job had been made easy by the coming of Pat. They went back to the ship laughing, exchanging anecdotes with him. There was nothing now to keep Minos from being the home they wanted except the melting sickness, and forewarned against it, they

could take precautions.

The polished silver and black column of the £xplorer seemed to rise higher and higher over the trees as they neared it. Then its symmetry blurred all sense of specific size as they stepped out from among the trees and stood on the edge of the meadow, looking "Nice!" said Pat. "Beautiful!"

The admiration

in his

voice was warming. "It was a yacht," Max said, still looking up, "secondhand, an old-time beauty without a sign of wear.

Svnthetic diamond-studded control board and murals

on the walls. It doesn't have the new speed drives, but it brought us thirty-six light years in one and a half subjective years. Plenty good enough." The tall tanned man looked faintly wistful, and June realized that he had never had access to a film never seen a movie, never experienced luxury. had been bom and raised on Minos without elec-

library,

He

tricity.

"May I go aboard?" Pat asked hopefully.

Max

unslung the specimen

kit

from

his shoulder,

CONTAGION

25

on the carpet of plants that covered the ground, and began to open it. "Tests first," Hal Barton said. "We have to find out if you people still carry this so-called melting sickness. We'll have to de-microbe you and take specimens before we let you on board. Once on, you'll be no good as a check for what the other Meads might laid

it

have."

Max was tive bottles

taking out a rack and a stand of preserva-

and hypodermics.

"Are you going to jab with alarm.

me

with those?" Pat asked

"You're just a specimen animal to me, bud!" Max grinned at Pat Mead, and Pat grinned back. June saw that they were friends already, the tall pantherish colonist and the wry, black-haired doctor. She felt a stab of guilt because she loved Max and yet could pity him for being smaller and frailer than Pat Mead.

"Lie down,"

Max

told him, "and hold

two

spinal-fluid samples

one

in front,

still.

We

need

from the back, a body-cavity and another from the arm." Pat lay down obediently. Max knelt, and as he spoke, expertly swabbed and inserted needles with the smooth speed that had made him a fine nerve surgeon on Earth. High above them the scout helioplane came out of an opening in the ship and angled off toward the west, its buzz diminishing. Then, suddenly, it veered and headed back, and Reno Ulrich's voice came tinnily from their earphones. "What's that you've got? Hey, what are you docs doing down there?" He banked again and came to a away. June could see his through the glass at Pat. Hal Barton switched to a narrow radio beam, ex-

stop,

hovering

fifty

startled face looking

feet

KATHERINE MacLEAN

26

plained rapidly and pointed in the direction of Alexandria. Reno's plane lifted

and flew away over the odd-

colored forest.

"The plane will drop a note on your town, telling them you got through to us," Hal Barton told Pat, who was sitting up watching Max dexterously put the blood and spinal fluids into the right bottles without exposing them to air. won't be free to contact your people until we if they still carry melting sickness," Max added.

"We know

"You might be immune so it doesn't show on you, but still carry enough germs— if that's what caused it— to wipe out a planet." "If you do carry melting sickness," said Hal Barton, "we won't be able to mingle with your people until we've cleared them of the disease." "Starting with me?" Pat asked. "Starting with you," Max told him ruefully, "as soon as you step on board."

"More needles?" and a few little

"Yes,

extras

thrown

in."

"Rough?" it isn t easy.

A few minutes suit

later,

standing in the

stalls for

decontamination, being buffeted by

jets

spaceof hot

bathed in glares of sterilizing ultraviolet radiation, June remembered that and compared Pat Mead's treatment to theirs. In the Explorer, stored carefully in sealed tanks and containers, was the ultimate, multipurpose cureall. It was a solution of enzymes so like the key catalysts of the human cell nucleus that it caused chemical derangement and disintegration in any nonhuman cell. Nothing could live in contact with it but human cells; disinfectant,

CONTAGION

27

any alien intruder to the body would die. Nucleocat Cureall was its trade name. But the cureall alone was not enough for complete safety. Plagues had been known to slay too rapidly and universally to be checked by human treatment. Doctors are not reliable; they die. Therefore spaceways and interplanetary health law demanded that ship equipment for guarding against disease be totally mechanical in operation, rapid and efficient. Somewhere near them, in a series of stalls which led around and around like a rabbit maze, Pat was being herded from stall to stall by peremptory mechanical voices, directed to soap and shower, ordered to insert his arm into a slot which took a sample of his blood, given solutions to drink, bathed in germicidal ultraviolet, shaken by sonic blasts, breathing air thick with sprays of germicidal mists, being directed to put his arms into other slots where they were anesthetized and injected with various immunizing solutions. Finally, he would be put in a room of high temperature and extreme dryness, and instructed to sit for half an hour while more fluids were dripped into his veins through long thin tubes. All legal spaceships were built for safety. No chance was taken of allowing a suspected carrier to bring an infection on board with him. June stepped from the last shower stall into the locker room, zipped off her spacesuit with a sigh of relief, and contemplated herself in a wall mirror. Red hair, dark blue eyes, tall "iVe got a good figure," she said thoughtfully. Max turned at the door. "Why this sudden interest in your looks?" he asked suspiciously. "Do we stand .

.

.

KATHERINE MacLEAN here and admire you, or do

we

28

finally get

something

to eat?"

"Wait a minute." She went to a wall phone and dialed it carefully, using a combination from the ship's director\'. "How're you doing, Pat?" The phone picked up a hissing of water or spray. There was a startled chuckle. "Voices, too! Hello, June. How do \ou tell a machine to go spray itself?" "Are \'0u hungrv?" "No food since yesterday." "We'll have a banquet ready for you when you get out," she told Pat and hung up, smiling. Pat Mead's voice had a vitalit\' and enjoxment which made shipboard talk sound like sad artificial gaiet\^ in contrast. They looked into the nearb\' small laborator)- where twelve squealing hamsters were protestingly submitting to a small injection each of Pat's blood. In most of them the injection was followed bv one of antihistaminics and adaptives. Otherwise the hamster defense system would treat all nonhamster cells as enemies, even the harmless human blood cells, and fight back against

One

them

violently.

hamster, the twelfth, was given an extra-large

dose of adaptive so that

if

there were a disease, he

would not fight it or the human cumb more rapidly.

cells,

and thus

suc-

"How ya doing,

George?" Max asked. "Routine," George Barton grunted absently. On the wa\' up the long spiral ramps to the dining hall, they passed a viewplate. It showed a long scene of mountains in the distance on the horizon, and between them, rising step by step as thev grew farther away, the low rolling hills, bronze and red with patches of clear green where there were fields.

Someone was looking

out, standing very stiU, as

if

CONTAGION

29

she had been there a long time— Bess

St.

Clair,

a

Canadian woman. "It looks like Winnipeg," she told them as they paused. "When are you doctors going to let us out of this barberpole? Look." She pointed. "See that patch of field on the south hillside, with the brook winding through it? I've staked that hillside for our house. When do we get out?" Reno Ulrich's tiny scout plane buzzed slowly in from the distance and began circling lazily. "Sooner than you think," Max told her. "We've discovered a castaway colony on the planet. They've done our tests for us by just living here. If there's anything here to catch, they've caught

it."

"People on Minos?" Bess's handsome ruddy face grew alive with excitement. "One of them is down in the medical department,"

be out in twenty minutes." "May I go see him?" "Sure," said Max. "Show him the way to the dining hall when he gets out. Tell him we sent you." "Right!" She turned and ran down the ramp like a small girl going to a fire. Max grinned at June and she grinned back. After a year and a half of isolation in space, everyone was hungry for the sight of new faces, the sound of unfamiliar voices. They climbed the last two turns to the cafeteria and entered to a rich subdued blend of soft music and quiet conversation. The cafeteria was a section of the old dining room, left when the rest of the ship had been converted to living and working quarters, and it

June

said. "He'll

had the original finely grained wood of the ceiling and walls, the sound absorbency, the soft-music spools and the intimate small light at each table where people leisurely ate and talked. Thev stood in line at the hot foods counter, and

still

KATHERINE MacLEAN

30

behind her June could hear a girl's voice talking excitedly through the murmur of conversation. "—new man, honest! I saw him through the viewplate when they came in. He's down in the medical department. A real frontiersman."

The

Max

line

drew abreast

of the counters,

and she and

chose three heaping trays, starting with hydro-

ponic mushroom steak, raised in the growing trays of water and chemicals; sharp salad bowl with rose tomatoes and aromatic peppers; tank-grown fish with special

sauce; four different desserts,

and assorted

beverages. Presently they had three tottering trays successfully maneuvered to a table. Brant St. Clair came over. "I beg your pardon, Max, but they are saying something about Reno carrying messages to a colony of savages for the medical department. Will he be back soon, do you know?" Max smiled up at him, his square face affectionate. Everyone liked the shy Canadian. "He's back already. We just saw him come in." "Oh, fine." St. Clair beamed. "I had an appointment with him to go out and confirm what looks like a nice vein of iron to the northeast. Have you seen Bess? Oh— there she is." He turned swiftly and hurried

away. A very

tall

man

with

fiery

red hair came in sur-

rounded by an eagerly talking crowd of ship people. It was Pat Mead. He stood in the doorway alertly scanning the dining room. Sheer vitality made him seem even larger than he was. Sighting June, he smiled and began to thread toward their table. "Look!" said someone. "There's the colonist!" Sheila, woman, followed and caught his

a pretty, jeweled

CONTAGION arm. "Did you really

swim

31

across a river to

come

here?"

Overflowing with good will and curiosity, people approached from all directions. "Did you actually walk three hundred miles? Come, eat with us. Let me help choose your tray." Everyone wanted him to eat at their table, everyone was a specialist and wanted data about Minos. They all wanted anecdotes about hunting wild animals with a

bow and arrow. "He needs

to

be rescued,"

Max

said.

"He won't have

a chance to eat."

June and Max got up firmly, edged through the crowd, captured Pat and escorted him back to their table. June found herself pleased to be claiming the hero of the hour. Pat sat in the simple, subtly designed chair and

leaned back almost voluptuously, testing the

way

it

gave and fitted itself to him. He ran his eyes over the tableware and heaped plates. He looked around at the rich grained walls and soft lights at each

bright

table.

He

said nothing, just looking

and feeling and

experiencing.

"When we

build our town and leave the ship," June

"we will turn all the staterooms back into the lounges and ballrooms and cocktail bars that used to be inside. Then it will be beautiful." Pat smiled, cocked his head to the music, and tried to locate its source. "It's good enough now. We only play music tapes once a week in city hall." They ate, Pat beginning the first meal he had had in more than a day. Most of the other diners finished when they were halfway through, and began walking over, diflBdently explained,

KATHERINE MacLEAN

32

then in another wave of smiling faces, handshakes, and introductions. Pat was asked about crops, about farming methods, about rainfall and floods, at

first,

about farm animals and plant breeding, about the compatibility of imported Earth seeds with local ground, about mines and strata. There was no need to protect him. He leaned back in his chair and drawled answers with the lazy ease of a panther; where he could think of no statistics, he would fill the gap wdth an anecdote. It showed that he enjoyed spinning campfire )'arns and being the center of interest.

Between bouts

of questions,

he ate and listened

to

the music.

June noticed that the female specialists were prolonging the questions more than they needed, clustering around the table laughing at his jokes, until presently Pat was almost surrounded by pretty faces, eager questions, and chiming laughs. Sheila the beautiful laughed most chimingly of all. June nudged Max, and Max shrugged indifferently. It wasn't anything a man would pay attention to, perhaps. But June watched Pat for a moment more, then glanced uneasily back to Max. He was eating and listening to Pat's answers and did not feel her gaze. For some reason Max looked almost shrunken to her. He was shorter than she had realized; she had forgotten that he was only the same height as herself. She was aware of the clear lilting chatter of female voices increasing at Pat's end of the table. "That guy's a menace," Max said, and laughed to himself, cutting another slice of hvdroponic mushroom steak. "What's got you?" he added, glancing aside at her when he noticed her sudden stillness.

CONTAGION

33

"Nothing," she said hastily, but she did not turn back to watching Pat Mead. She felt disloyal. Pat was only a superb animal.

Max was

the

Or—was

man

she loved.

herself he? Of course he was, angrily. They had gone colonizing together because they wanted to spend their lives together; she had never thought of marrying any other man. Yet the sense of dissatisfaction persisted, and along vdth it a

she

told

feeling of guilt.

Len Mario w,

the protein tank-culture technician

responsible for the

mushroom

steaks,

had wormed

his

group and asked Pat a question. Now he was saying, "I don't dig you, Pat. It sounds like you're

way

into the

putting the people into the tanks instead of the vegetables!"

He

glanced at them, looking puzzled. "See if of this. It sounds medical

you two can make anything to me."

Pat leaned back and smiled, sipping a glass of

hydroponic burgundy. "Wonderful

stuff.

You'll

have

show us how to make it." Len turned back to him. "You people live off the country, right? You hunt and bring in steaks and eat

to

them, right? Well, say I have one of those steaks right here and I want to eat it, what happens?"

"Go ahead and

eat

it.

It just

wouldn't digest. You'd

stay hungry."

"Why?" Len was aggrieved. "Chemical differences in the basic protoplasm of Minos. Different amino linkages, left-handed instead of right-handed molecules in the carbohydrates, things like that.

Nothing

will

be digestible here

until

you are

adapted chemically by a little test-tube evolution. Till then you'd starve to death on a full stomach." Pat's side of the table had been loaded with the

KATHERINE MacLEAN

34

two trays, but it was almost clear now and the dishes were stacked neatly to one side. He started on three desserts, thoughtfully tasting each in turn. dishes from

"Test-tube evolution?" I

Max

repeated. "What's that?

thought you people had no doctors." "It's a story." Pat leaned back again. "Alexander

Mead, the head

Mead

P.

was a plant geneticist, a very determined personality and no man to argue with. He didn't want us to go through the struggle of killing off all Minos plants and putting in our own, spoiling the face of the planet and upsetting the balance of its ecology. He decided that he would of the

adapt our genes to it,

this

clan,

planet or

kill

us trying.

He

did

all right."

"Did which?" asked June, suddenly feeling a sourceless prickle of fear.

"Adapted us She listened

to Minos.

He took human cells—"

intently, trying to find a reason for fear

would have taken many human generations to adapt to Minos by ordinary evolution, and that only at a heavy toll of death and hunger which evolution exacts. There was a shorter way: Human cells have the ability to return to their primeval condition of independence, hunting, eating and in the explanation. It

reproducing alone. Alexander P. Mead took human cells and made them into phagocytes. He put them through the hard savage school of evolution— a thousand generations of multiplication, hardship and hunger, with the alien indigestible food always present, offering its reward of plenty to the cell that reluctantly learned to absorb it.

"Leucocytes

can

run

through

several

thousand

generations of evolution in six months," Pat

Mead

CONTAGION

35

"When they reached a point where they Minos food, he planted them back in absorb would the people he had taken them from." "What was supposed to happen then?" Max asked,

finished.

leaning forward.

know exactly how it worked. He never told anybody much about it, and when I was a little boy "I don't

he had gone loco and was wandering ha-ha-ing around waving a test tube. Fell down a ravine and broke his neck at the age of eighty." "A character," Max said. Why was she afraid? "It worked, then?" "Yes. He tried it on all the Meads the first year. The other settlers didn't want to be experimented on until they saw how it worked out. It worked. The Meads could hunt and plant while the other settlers were still eating out of hydroponics tanks." "It

worked," said

geneticist

Max

to

and a tank-culture

Len. "You're a plant

expert. There's a job for

you."

"XJh-uhr Len backed away. "It sounds like a medical problem to me. Human cell control— right up your alley."

one-way street," Pat warned. "Once it is done, you won't be able to digest ship food. I'll get no good from this protein. I ate it just for the taste." Hal Barton appeared quietly beside the table. "Three of the twelve test hamsters have died," he reported, and turned to Pat. "Your people carry the germs of melting sickness, as you call it. The dead hamsters were injected with blood taken from you before you were de-infected. We can't settle here unless we de-infect everybody on Minos. Would they "It is a

object?"

KATHERINE MacLEAN

"We

36

wouldn't want to give you folks germs." Pat

smiled. "An\ thing for safety. But there'll have to be a

vote on

it first."

The doctors went to Reno Ulrich's table and walked with him to the hangar, explaining. He was to carry the proposal to Alexandria, mingle with the people, be

persuasive and wait for

He was

them

to vote before returning.

to give himself shots of cureall

every two

hours on the hour or run the risk of disease.

Reno was pleased. He had dabbled

in sociology

before retraining as a mechanic for the expedition. "This gives me a chance to study their mores." He

winked wdckedly. "I may not be back for several nights." They watched through the viewplate as he took off, and then went over to the laboratory for a look at the hamsters.

Three were alive and healthy, muncliing lettuce. One was the control; the other two had been given shots of Pat's blood from before he entered the ship, but with no additional treatment. Apparently a hamster could fight off melting sickness easily if left alone. Three were still feverish and ruffled, with a low red blood count, but recovering. The three dead ones had been given strong shots of adaptive and counterhistamine, so their bodies had not fought back against the attack.

June glanced

away

again.

at the

They

dead animals

hastily

and looked

lay twisted with a strange semi-fluid

ready to dissolve. The last hamster, which had been given the heaviest dose of adaptive, had apparently lost all its hair before death. It was hairless and pink, like a stillborn baby. "We can find no microorganisms," George Barton said. "None at all. Nothing in the body that should not be there. Leucosis and anemia. Fever only for the ones limpness, as

ff

CONTAGION

37

it off." He handed Max some temperature and graphs of blood counts. June wandered out into the hall. Pediatrics and obstetrics were her field; she left the cellular research to Max, and just helped him with laboratory routine.

that fought

charts

The strange mood followed her out

into the hall, then

abruptly lightened.

Coming toward

her, busily telling a tale of

adven-

was a tall, redheaded, magnificently handsome man. It was his handsomeness which made Pat such a pleasure to look upon and talk with, she guiltily told herself, and it was his tremendous vitality ... It was like meeting a movie hero in the flesh, or a hero out of the pages of a book— Deerslayer, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. She waited in the doorway to the laboratory and made no move to join them, merely acknowledged the two with a nod and a smile and a casual lift of the hand. They nodded and smiled back. "Hello, June," said Pat and continued telling his ture to the gorgeous Sheila Davenport,

but as they passed he lightly touched her arm. "You Tarzan?" she said mockingly and softly to his passing profile, and knew that he had heard. tale,

That night she had a nightmare. She was running down a long corridor looking for Max, but every man she came to was a big bronze man with red hair and bright-blue eyes who touched her arm. The pink hamster! She woke suddenly, feeling as if alarm bells had been ringing, and listened carefully, but there was no sound. She had had a nightmare, she told herself, but alarm bells were still ringing in her unconscious. Something was wrong. Lying still and trying to preserve the images, she groped for a meaning, but the mood faded under the

KATHERINE MacLEAN cold touch of reason.

Whv

hamster!

vague? She

fell

Damn

38

intuitive thinking!

A

pink

did the unconscious have to be so asleep again and forgot.

They had lunch with Pat Mead that day, and after it was over, Pat delayed June with a hand on her shoulder and looked down at her. "Me Tarzan, you Jane," he said and then turned away, answering the hails of a party at another table as if he had not spoken. She stood shaken, and then walked to the door where Max waited. She was particularly affectionate with Max the rest of the dav, and it pleased him. He would not have

been

if

he had

kno\\Ti

why. She

tried to forget Pat's

reply.

June was in the laboratory with Max, watching the growth of a small tank culture of the alien protoplasm from a Minos weed, and listening to Len Marlow pour out his troubles.

"And

Elsie tags

around

listening to his stories.

after that big goof all day,

And

then she

tells

me

I'm just

imagining things!" He passed his hand across his eyes. "I came away from Earth to be with Elsie. I'm getting a headache. Look, can't you persuade Pat to cut it out, June? You and Max are his

jealous, I'm

.

.

.

friends."

"Here, have an aspirin," June said. "We'll see what

we can do." "Thanks." Len picked up his tank culture and went out, not at all cheered.

Max end

sat

brooding over the

dials

of the laboratory, apparently

W^en Len had

and meters

at his

sunk in thought.

gone, he spoke almost harshly.

"Why

encourage the guy? Why let him hope?" "Found out anything about the diiferences in protoplasm?" she evaded.

CONTAGION

"Why

39

him kid himself? What chance has he got against that hunk of muscle and smooth talk?" let

"But Pat isn't after Elsie," she protested. "Every scatterbrained woman on this ship is trailing after Pat with her tongue hanging out. Brant St. Clair is in the bar right now. He doesn't say what he is drinking about, but do you think Pat is resisting all these women crowding down on him?" "There are other things besides looks and charm," she said, grimly trying to concentrate on a slide under her binocular microscope. "Yeah, and whatever they are, Pat has them, too. Who's more competent to support a woman and a family on a frontier planet than a handsome bruiser who was born here?" "I meant"—June spun around on her stool with unexpected passion— "there is old friendship, and there's loyalty and memories, and personality!" She

was

half shouting.

much on the secondhand marsitting slumped on his lab He was ket," Max stool, looking dully at his dials. "Now I'm getting a headache!" He smiled ruefully. "No kidding, a real headache. And over other people's troubles, yet!" "They're not worth said.

She got up and wanOther people's troubles dered out into the long curving halls. "Me Tarzan, you Jane," Pat's voice repeated in her mind. Why did the man have to be so overpoweringly attractive, so glar.

ing a contrast to

manage

to

.

.

Max? Why

couldn't the universe

run on without generating troublesome

love triangles?

She walked up the curving ramps to the dining hall where they had eaten and drunk and talked yesterday. It was empty except for one couple talking forehead to forehead over cold

coflFee.

KATHERINE MacLEAN

40

She turned and wandered down the long easy spiral pharmacy and dispensary. It was empty. George was probably in the test lab next door, where he could hear if he was wanted. The automatic vendor of harmless euphorics, stimulants and opiates of corridor to the

stood in the corner, brightly decorated in pastel abstract

with

designs,

glowing above

Max had

its

automatic tabulator

graph

it.

a headache,

she remembered.

She rethe machine and pushed the

corded her thumbprint in plunger for a box of aspirins, trying to focus her attention on the problem of adapting the people of the ship to the planet Minos. An aquarium tank wdth a

would be enough to conhuman skin into a community of

faint solution of histamine

vert a piece

voracious

of

phagocytes individually seeking something to devour, but could they eat enough to live away from the rich sustaining plasma of human blood? active

After the aspirins, she pushed another plunger for

something for herself. Then she stood looking at it, a small box with three pills in her hand— Theobromine, a heart strengthener and a confidence-giving euphoric all in one, something to steady shaky nerves. She had used it before only in emergency. She extended a hand an looked at it. It was trembling. Damn triangles!

While she was looking at her hand, there was a click from the automatic drug vendor. It summed the morning use of each drug in the vendors throughout the ship, and recorded it in a neat addition to the end of each graph line. For a moment she could not find the green line for anodynes and the red line for stimulants, and then she saw that they went almost straight up.

CONTAGION

41

There were too many being used— far too many to be explained by jealousy or psychosomatic peevishness. This was an epidemic, and only one disease was possible!

The

disinfecting of Pat

cat Cureall, killer of

all

had not succeeded. Nucleohad not cured! Pat

infections,

had brought melting sickness into the ship with himi Who had it? The drugs vendor glowed cheerfully, uncommunicative. She opened a panel in its side and looked in on restless interlacing cogs, and on the inside of the door she saw printed some directions "To remove or examine records before reaching end of the reel—" After a few fumbling minutes she had the answer. In the cafeteria at breakfast and lunch, thirty-eight men out of the forty-eight aboard ship had taken more than his norm of stimulant. Twenty-one had taken aspirin as well. The only woman who had made an unusual purchase was herself! She remembered the hamsters that had thrown off the infection with a short sharp fever, and checked back in the records to the day before. There was a .

short rise in aspirin sales to

The women were It

.

women

.

at late afternoon.

safe.

was the men who had melting

sickness!

Melting sickness killed in hours, according to Pat Mead. How long had the men been sick? As she was leaving, Jerry came into the pharmacy, recorded his thumbprint and took a box of aspirin from the machine.

She

felt all right. Self-control

was working

well,

and

walk down the corridor smiling at the people who passed. She took the emergency elevator to the control room and showed her credentials to the technician on watch.

it

was

possible

still

to

KATHERINE MacLEAN

42

"Medical Emergency." At a small control panel in the corner was a large red button, precisely labeled. She considered it and picked up the control-room phone. This was the hard part, telling someone, especially someone who had it— Max. She dialed, and when the click on the end of the line showed he had picked up the phone, she told Max

what she had seen. "No women, just the men," he repeated. "That right?"

"Yes." it's chemically alien, inhibited by one of hormones. We'll try sex hormone shots, female the if we have to. Where are you calling from?" She told him. "That's right. Give Nucleocat Cureall another

"Probably

might work

Push that button." She went to the panel and pushed the large red button. Through the long height of the Explorer, bells woke to life and began to ring in frightened clangor, emergency doors thumped shut, mechanical apparatus hummed into life and canned voices began to give chance.

It

this time.

rapid urgent directions.

A plague had come. She obeyed the mechanical orders, went out into the and walked in line with the others. The captain walked ahead of her and the gorgeous Sheila Davenhall

port

hag

fell

this

into step beside her. "I look like a positive

morning. Does that

mean

I'm sick? Are

we

all

sick?"

June shrugged, unwilling to say what she knew. Others came out of all rooms into the corridor, thickening the line. They could hear each room lock as the last person left it, and then, faintly, the hiss of

CONTAGION disinfectant spray. last

person in

line,

43

Behind them, on the heels of the segments of the ship slammed off

and began to hiss. They wound down the

spiral

corridor until they

reached the medical-treatment section again, and there they waited in line. "It won't scar my arms, will it?" asked Sheila apprehensively, glancing at her smooth, lovely arms. The mechanical voice said, "Next. Step inside,

and stand

please,

"Not a

bit,"

clear of the door."

June reassured Sheila, and stepped into

the cubicle. Inside, she

was directed from cubicle

to cubicle

and

given the usual buffeting by sprays and radiation, had blood samples taken and was injected with Nucleocat

and a

series of other protectives.

At

last

she was di-

rected through another door into a tiny cubicle with a chair.

"You are

to wait here,"

commanded

the recorded

voice metallically. "In twenty minutes the door will

unlock and you treated

may

protected. It

may

then leave. All people

visit all parts of is

forbidden to

now

the ship which have been visit

any quarantined or from the

unsterile part of the ship without permission

medical

officers."

Presently the door unlocked and she

emerged

into

bright lights again, feeling slightly battered.

She was in the clinic. A few men sat on the edge of beds and looked sick. One was lying down. Brant and Bess St. Clair sat near each other, not speaking. Approaching her was George Barton, reading a thermometer with a puzzled expression. "What is it, George?" she asked anxiously. "Some of the women have a slight fever, but it's going down. None of the fellows have any— but their

KATHERINE MacLEAN white count

is

way

44

up, their red count

is

way down,

and they look sick to me." She approached St. Clair. His usually ruddy cheeks were pale, his pulse was light and too fast, and his skin felt clammv. "How's the headache? Did the Nucleocat treatment help?" "I feel

worse,

"Better set

up

if

anything."

beds," she told George. "Get everyone

back into the clinic." "We're doing that," George assured her. "That's what Hal is doing." She went back to the laboratory. Max was pacing up and down, absently running his hands through his black hair until it stood straight up. He stopped when he saw her face, and scowled thoughtfully. "They are still sick?" It was more a statement than a question. She nodded. "The Cureall didn't cure this time," he muttered. "That leaves it up to us. We have melting sickness and according to Pat and the hamsters, that leaves us less than a day to find out what it is and learn how to stop it."

him and he moved to the work table to set it up. He worked rapidly, with an occasional uncoordinated movement Suddenly an idea for another

test struck

breaking his usual efficiency.

was strange to see Max troubled and afraid. She put on a laborator)' smock and began to work. She worked in silence. The mechanicals had failed. Hal and George Barton were busy staving off death from the weaker cases and trying to gain time for Max and her to work. The problem of the plague had to be solved by the two of them alone. It was in their hands. Another test, no results. Another test, no results. It

CONTAGION

45

Max's hands were shaking and he stopped a

moment

to take stimulants.

moment, found Bess women to be ready to take over if the men became too sick to go on. "But tell them calmly. We don't want to frighten the men." She lingered in the ward long enough to see the word spread among the women in a widening wave of paler faces and compressed lips; then she went back She went into the ward and warned her quietly to

for a

tell

the other

to the laboratory.

There was no sign of a microorganism in anyone's blood, merely a growing horde of leucocytes and phagocytes, prowling as if mobilized to Another

test.

repel invasion.

Len Marlow was wheeled in unconscious, with Hal Barton's written comments and conclusions pinned to the blanket. don't feel so well myself," the assistant com-

"I

"The air feels thick. I can't breathe." June saw that his lips were blue. "Oxygen she told Max.

plained.

"Low

short,"

Max

answered. "Look into a drop and see what's going on. Use mine; I feel the same way he does." She took two drops of Max's blood.

red-corpuscle count,"

The count was

Breathing

is

low, falling too fast.

useless without the proper

minimum

of

red corpuscles in the blood. People below that mini-

mum of

die of asphyxiation although their lungs are full

The red-corpuscle count was The time she and Max had to work

pure

fast.

air.

falling too

in

was too

short.

"Pump some more CO2

into the air system,"

said urgently over the phone.

men's end of the ward."

Max

"Get some into the

KATHERINE MacLEAN

46

She looked through the microscope at the hve sample of blood. It was a dark clear field and bright moving things spun and swirled through it, but she could see nothing that did not belong there. "Hal,"

"cut

the

Max

called over the general speaker system,

other

anemia. Treat

check for accelerating monoxide poisoning— COo and

treatments,

it

like

oxygen."

She reached into a cupboard under the work table, located two cylinders of ox)'gen, cracked the valves and handed one to Max and one to the assistant. Some of the bluish tint left the assistant's face as he breathed, and he went over to the patient with re-

awakened concern. "Not breathing, Doc!" Max was working at the desk, muttering equations of hemoglobin catalysis. "Len's gone, Doc," the assistant said more loudly.

and get him into a regeneration tank," said June, not moving from the microscope. "Hurry! Hal will show you how. The oxidation and mechanical heart action in the tank will keep him going. Put anyone in a tank who seems to be dying. Get some women to help you. Give them Hal's in"Artificial respiration

structions."

The

tanks were ordinarily used to suspend anima-

tion in a nutrient bath during the regrowth of

diseased organ.

any

They could preserve life in an almost body during the usual disintegration

totally destroyed

and regrowth treatments

for cancer

and old

age,

and

they could encourage healing as destruction continued

but they could not prevent ultimate death as long as the disease was not conquered. The drop of blood in June's microscope was a great dark field, and in the foregroimd, brought to gar-

.

.

.

CONTAGION gantuan

solidity

by the stereo

saucer shapes of red blood end, floating by the

47

drifted neat turned They end for misty mass of a leucocyte effect,

cells.

humped

which was crawling on the cover glass. There were not enough red corpuscles, and she felt that they grew fewer as she watched. She fixed her eye on one, not blinking in fear that she would miss what might happen. It was a tidy red button, and it spun as it drifted, the current moving it aside in a curve as it passed by the leucocyte. Then, abruptly, the cell vanished.

June stared numbly at the place where it had been. it gone? Behind her. Max was calling over the speaker sys-

Where had

tem again: "Dr. Stark speaking. Any technician who knows anything about the life tanks, start bringing more out of storage and set them up. Emergency." "We may need forty-seven," June said quietly. There were forty-seven men. "We may need forty-seven," Max repeated to the ship in general. His voice did not falter. "Set them up along the corridor. Hook them in on extension lines." His voice filtered back from the empty floors above in a series of dim echoes. What he had said meant that every

man on board might be on

the point of heart

stoppage.

June looked blindly through the binocular microscope, trying to think. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Max was wavering and breathing more and more frequently of the pure, cold, burning oxygen of the cylinders. In the microscope she could see that there were fewer red cells left alive in the drop of his

The rate of fall was accelerating. She didn't have to glance at Max to know how he would look— skin pale, black eyebrows and keen

blood.

KATHERINE MacLEAN brown e\es cal

slightly squinted in thought, a faint ironi-

twisting the

grin

48

sensitive, his face

ceivable that

bluing

was part

Max

could

lips.

Intelligent,

of her mind. It die.

He

thin,

was incon-

couldn't die.

He

couldn't leave her alone.

She forced her niind back to the problem. All the men of the Explorer were at the same point, whereever they were.

Moving system.

Somehow

losing blood, dying.

Max's desk, she spoke into the intercom "Bess, send a couple of women to look to

through the ship, room by room, with a stretcher. Make sure all the men are down here." She remembered Reno. "Sparks, heard anytliing from Reno? Is he back?" Sparks replied weakly after a lag. "The last I heard from Reno was a call this morning. He was raving about mirrors, and Pat Mead's folks not being real people, just carbon copies, and claiming he was crazy; and I should send him tiie psychiatrist. I thought he

was kidding. He

didn't call back."

"Thanks, Sparks." Reno was dead.

Max

dialed and spoke gasping over the phone. "Are

you okay up there? Forget about engineering controls. Drop everything and head for the tanks while \ou can still

walk.

If

your tank's not done,

lie

down

next to

it."

June went back to the work table and whispered into her own phone. "Bess, send up a stretcher for Max. He looks pretty bad." There had to be a solution. The life tanks could sustain life in a damaged body, encouraging it to regrow more rapidly, but they merelv slowed death as long as the disease was not checked. The postponement could not last long, for destruction could go on steadily in the tanks until the nutritive solution

would

CONTAGION

49

hold no life except the triumphant microscopic killers that caused melting sickness. There were very few red blood corpuscles in the microscope field now, incredibly few. She tipped the microscope and they began to drift, spinning slowly. A

through the center. She watched it as the current swept it in an arc past the dim off-focus bulk of the leucocyte. There was a sweep of motion and it vanished. For a moment it meant nothing to her; then she lifted her head from the microscope and looked around. Max sat at his desk, head in hand, his

lone

corpuscle

floated

rumpled short black hair sticking out between his odd angles. A pencil and a pad scrawled with formulas lay on the desk before him. She could

fingers at

see his concentration in the rigid set of his shoulders.

He was

still

"Max,

thinking; he just

I

corpuscle. It

had not given up.

saw a leucocyte grab

was unbelievably

"Leukemia," muttered

Max

a red blood

fast."

without moving. "Gal-

loping leukemia yet! That comes under the heading of cancer. Well, that's part of the answer. It might be

we

all

He

grinned feebly and reached for the "Anybody still on his feet in there?" he muttered into it, and the question was amplified to a booming voice throughout the ship. "Hal, are you still need."

speaker

set.

going? Look, Hal, change dials, set

them

week. This

is

all the dials, change the deep melt and regeneration. One like leukemia. Got it? This is like

to

leukemia."

June rose. It was time for her to take over the job. She leaned across his desk and spoke into the speaker system. "Doctor Walton talking," she said. "This is to the women. Don't let any of the men work any more; they'll kill themselves. See that they all go into the

KATHERINE MacLEAN

50

tanks right away. Set the tank dials for deep regeneration.

You can

see

how from

the ones that are set."

Two

exhausted and frightened women clattered in the doorway with a stretcher. Their hands were scratched and oily from helping to set up tanks.

'That order includes you," she told caught him as he swayed.

Max saw

sternly

and

the stretcher bearers and struggled up-

"Ten more minutes," he said

right.

Max

clearly.

"Might

think of an idea. Something not right in this setup.

have

to figure

how

to prevent a relapse,

how

I

the thing

started."

He knew more

bacteriolog)' than she did; she

had

to

help him think. She motioned the bearers to wait, fixed a breathing

COo and one

mask

for

Max from

a cylinder of

Max went back to his

of oxygen.

desk.

She walked up and down, trying to think, remembering the hamsters. The melting sickness,

it

was open

She struggled with an impulse to which held one of the men. She wanted to look see if that would explain the name.

called. Melting.

a tank in,

Melting sickness Footsteps

.

.

.

came and Pat Mead stood uncertainly

in

doorway. Tall, handsome, rugged, a pioneer. "Anything I can do?" he asked. She barely looked at him. "You can stay out of our way. We're busy." "I'd like to help," he said. "Very funny." She was vicious, enjoying the whip of her words. "Every man is dying because you're a carrier, and you want to help." He stood nervously clenching and unclenching his hands. "A guinea pig, maybe. I'm immune. All the the

Meads

are."

CONTAGION "Go away." God, why makes a Mead immune?

51

What

couldn't she think?

Max muttered. "Pat hasn't done waveringly to the microscope, went anything." He took a tiny sliver from his finger, suspended it in a slide and slipped it under the lens with detached habitual dexterity. "Something funny going on," he said to June. "Symptoms don't feel right." After a moment he straightened and motioned for her to look. "Leucocytes, phagocytes—" He was be"Aw,

let

wildered.

'im alone,"

"My own—"

She looked in, and then looked back at Pat in a growing wave of horror. "They're not your own. Max!" she whispered.

Max rested

hand on the

a

table to brace himself, put

eye to the microscope, and looked again. June knew what he saw. Phagocytes, leucocytes, attacking his

and devouring

his

in

tissues

a growing incredible

horde, multiplying insanely.

evolved

cells

had learned too

The Meads* much. They were con-

tagious.

And

Pat Mead's

How much

Not

the

his

Meads?

.

.

.

Mead

Mead's!

Pat

phagocytes!

.

.

.

alike

were

contagious from one to

cells

another, not a disease attacking or being fought, but

acting as normal leucocytes in whatever

were

The

body they

red-headed people, finding no strangeness in the bloodstream of any of the tall, red-headed people. No strangeness ... A in!

toti-potent

leucocytes of

leucocyte

wombs. The womblike

tall,

finding

its

way

into

cellular

For the men of the Explorer, a week's cure with deep melting to de-differentiate the leucocytes and turn them back to normal tissue, then regrowth and reforming from the cells life tanks.

KATHERINE MacLEAN that

were

there.

From

52

the cells that were there.

the cells that ivere there

.

.

From

.

germs are your cells!" Crazily, Pat began to laugh, his face twisted with sudden understanding. "I understand. I get it. I'm a "Pat, the

contagious personality. That's funny,

Max

rose

suddenly

lurched. Pat caught

him

stretcher bearers carried

isn't it?"

from the microscope and as he fell, and the bewildered

him out

to the tanks.

For a week June tended the tanks. The other volunteered to help, but she refused. She said nothing, hoping her guess would not be true. "Is everything all right?" Elsie asked her anxiously. "How is Len coming along?" Elsie looked haggard and worn, like all the women, from doing the work that the men had always done, and their own work

women

too.

"He's fine," June said tonelessly, shutting tight the

door of the tank room. "Thev're "That's

good," Elsie said,

all fine."

but she looked more

frightened than before.

June firmly locked the tank room door and the girl went away. The other women had been listening, and now they wandered back to their jobs, unsatisfied by June's answer, but not daring to ask for the truth. They were there whenever June went into the tank room, and they were still there— or relieved by others, June was not sure— when she came out. And alwavs some one of them asked the unvarying question for all the others, and June gave the unvarying answer. But she kept the key. No woman but herself knew what was going on in the life tanks. Then the day of completion came. June told no one

CONTAGION

53

room as on the other days, locked the door behind her, and there was the nightmare again. Tliis time it was reahty and she wandered down a path between long rows of coffinlike tanks, calling, "Max! Max!" silently and looking went

of the hour. She

into each one as

into the

opened. But each face she looked at was the same. Watching it

them dissolve and regrow in the nutrient had only been able to guess at the horror happening.

solution, she

of

what was

Now she knew.

They were

the

all

same lean-boned, blond-skinned

growth of reddish down on All horribly— and handsomely— the

face, with a pin-feather

cheeks and scalp. same.

A

medical kit lay carelessly on the floor beside Max's tank. She stood near the bag. "Max," she said, and found her throat closing. The canned voice of the mechanical apparatus mocked her, speaking glibly ." about waking and sitting up. "I'm sorry, Max .

The

tall

eyes sat

up

man

.

with rugged features and bright blue

sleepily

and

lifted

an eyebrow

at her,

and

ran his hand over his red-fuzzed head in a gesture of bewilderment. "What's the matter, June?" he asked drowsily.

She gripped

his arm.

He compared hand and

"Max—"

the relative size of his

said wonderingly,

know. Max.

arm with her

"You shrank."

know." He turned his head and looked at his arms and legs, pale blond arms and legs with a down of red hair. He touched the thick left arm, squeezed a pinch of hard flesh. "It isn't mine," he said, surprised. "But I can feel "I

I

itr

Watching his face was like watching a stranger mimicking and distorting Max's expressions. Max in

KATHERINE MacLEAN

Max

54

what had happened to him, looking around at the other men sitting up in their tanks. Max feeling the terror that was in herself and all the men as they stared at themselves and their friends and saw what they had become. "We're all Pat Mead," he said harshly. "All the Meads are Pat Mead. That's why he was surprised to fear.

see people

trying to understand

who

didn't look like himself."

"Yes, Max."

"Max," he repeated. "It's me, all right. The nervous system didn't change." His new blue eyes held hers. "I'm me inside. Do you love me, June?" But she couldn't know )'et. She had loved Max with the thin, ironic face, the rumpled black hair and the t\visted smile that never really hid his quick sympathy. Now he was Pat Mead. Could he also be Max? "Of course

He

I still

love you, darling."

grinned. It

was

wry smile of Max, on the handsome new blond

still

though fitting strangely face. "Then it isn't so bad. good.

I

envied him

this big,

the

might even be pretty muscular body. If Pat or It

any of these Meads so much as looks at you, I'm going to knock his block off. Now I can do it." She laughed and couldn't stop. It wasn't that funny. But it was still Max, trying to be unafraid, drawing on humor. Ma)'be the rest of the men would also be their old selves, enough so the women would not feel that their men were strangers. Behind her, male voices spoke characteristically. She did not have to turn to know which was which: "This is one way to keep a guy from stealing your girl," that was Len Mario w; "I've got to write down reactions," Hal Barton; "Now I can really work that hillside vein of metal," St. Clair. Then others complaining, swearing, laughing bitterly at the trick that

CONTAGION

55

had been played on them and their flirting, tempted women. She knew who they were. Their women would know them apart too. "We'll go outside," Max said. "You and I. Maybe the shock won't be so bad to the women after they see me." He paused. "You didn't tell them, did you?" "I couldn't. I wasn't sure. I— was hoping I was wrong."

She opened the door and closed was a small crowd on the other side.

quickly. There

it

"Hello, Pat," Elsie said uncertainly, trying to look

past

them

into the tank

room before the door

"I'm not Pat, I'm Max," said the

shut.

man

with the blue eyes and the fuzz-reddened skull. "Listen—" "Good heavens, Pat, what happened to your hair?" tall

Sheila asked.

man

with the handsome face and the sharp blue eyes. "Don't you get it? I'm Max Stark. The melting sickness is Mead cells. We caught them from Pat. They adapted us to Minos. They also changed us all into Pat Mead." "I'm Max," insisted the

The women

stared at him,

at

each other. They

shook their heads. if

"They don't understand," June said. I hadn't seen it happening. Max."

Pat," said Sheila, dazedly stubborn.

"It's

off his hair. It's

Max

some kind

It's

Max

Stark.

funny, but

They

it's

have

"He shaved

of joke."

shook her shoulders, glaring

"I'm Max.

hear?

"I couldn't

all

down

at

look like me.

not a joke.

Laugh

her face.

Do you

for us, for

God's sake!" too much," said June. "They'll have to see." She opened the door and let them in. They hurried "It's

past her to the tanks, looking at forty-six identical

blond faces, beginning to

call in

frightened voices:

KATHERINE MacLEAN

56

"Jerryl"

"Harry!" "Lee, where are you, sweetheart—"

June shut the door on the voices that were growing

women terrified and helpless, the men shouting to let the women know who they were. "It isn't easy," said Max, looking down at his own hysterical, the

you That helps."

thick muscles. "But girls aren't.

aren't

changed and the other

Through the muffled noise and

h\steria, a bell

was

ringing. "It's

the airlock," June said.

Peering in the viewplate were nine Meads from Alexandria. To all appearances, eight of them were Pat

Mead

at various ages,

from

fifteen to

and the

fift\',

other was a handsome, leggy, red-headed girl

could have been his

who

sister.

Regretfully, they explained through the voice tube

had walked over from Alexandria to bring news that the plane pilot had contracted melting sickness there and had died. They wanted to come in. June and Max told them to wait and returned to the tank room. The men were enjoying their new height and strength, and the women were bewilderedlv learning that they could tell one Pat Mead from another by voice, by gesture of face or hand. The panic was gone. In its place was acceptance of the that they

fantastic situation.

Max outside

called for attention. "There are nine

who want

names, but they're

They frowTied

to

all

come

Thev have

different

Pat Mead."

and George Barton them in? I don't see any

or looked blank,

asked, "WTiy didn't you let

problem."

in.

Meads

CONTAGION

57

"One of them," said Max soberly, "is a girl. Patricia Mead. The girl wants to come in." There was a long silence while the implication settled to the fear center of the women's minds. Sheila the beautiful felt

it first.

She

cried, "No! Please don't

There was real fright in her tone and the women caught it quickly. Elsie clung to Len, begging, "You don't want me to change, do you, Len? You like me the way I am! Tell me vou do!" The other girls backed away. It was illogical, but it was human. June felt terror rising in herself. She held up her hand for quiet, and presented the necessity to her

let

in!"

the group.

"Only half of us can leave Minos," she said. "The men cannot eat ship food; they've been conditioned to this planet. We women can go, but we would have to go without our men. We can't go outside without contagion, and we can't spend the rest of our lives in quarantine inside the ship. George Barton is rightthere is no problem." "But we'd be changed!" Sheila shrilled. "I don't want to become a Mead! I don't want to be somebody else!"

There was women the one, by a brief hesitation, and fled to that side, until there were only Bess, June and

She ran

to the inner wall of the corridor.

then, one

four others

left.

"See!" cried Sheila.

"A

vote!

We

can't let the girl

m!

No one

spoke.

To change,

to

be someone else— the

idea was strange and horrifying.

The men stood un-

easily glancing at each

looking into mirrors,

other, as

if

and against the wall of the corridor the women watched in fear and huddled together, staring at the

KATHERINE MacLEAN

58

men. One man in forty-seven poses. One of them made a beseeching move toward Elsie and she shrank away. "No, Len! I won't let you change me!"

Max stirred restlessly, the ironic smile that made his new face his own unconsciously twisting into a grimace of pity. "We men can't leave, and you women can't stay," he said bluntly. "Why not let Patricia Mead in. Get it over with!" June took a small mirror from her belt pouch and own face, aware of Max talking forcefully,

studied her

the

men

face

.

.

standing .

her

own

the

silent,

face with

nose, long mobile lips

.

.

.

women

its

the

pleading.

dark-blue eyes, small

mind and the body

inseparable; the shape of a face

Her

is

are

part of the mind.

She put the mirror back. "I'd kill mvself!"

Sheila

was sobbing.

"I'd

rather

die!"

"You won't die," Max was saying. "Can't you there's only one solution—" They were looking at Max. June stepped silently of the tank room, and then turned and went to airlock. She opened the valves that would let in Mead's sister.

see

out the

Pat

TNK PEOPLE MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY Marion Zimmer Bradley has been writing science fiction since 1953, and was an active reader of sf before that time. She is best known for her series of books about the planet Darkover. She is the author of Sword of Aldones (Ace), a runner-up for the 1963 Hugo Award, an award named after editor Hugo Gernsback and given by members of the World Science Fiction Convention held each year. Her novels include The World Wreckers (Ace), The Bloody Sun (Ace), Hunters of the Red Moon (DAW Books), Darkover Landfall (DAW Books) and Spell-Sword (DAW Books ) Most of her time is devoted to writing, but she is also a member of the Tolkien Society and is a semiprofessional composer and singer. She lives in California. .

"The Wind People,"

first

pubhshed

in If magazine,

is

haunting story about a woman who chooses to an alien world with her son. Moving and mysterious,

a

remain on

allows various interpretations of

its

it

ultimately tragic out-

come.

It

had been a long layover

for the Starholm's crew^,

hunting heavy elements for fuel— eight months, on an idyllic

green paradise of a planet; a

soft, w^indy,

whis-

pering world, inhabited only by trees and winds. But in the

end

it

presented

Specifically,

it

its

own unique problem.

presented Captain Merrihew with the 59

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

60

problem of Robin, male, father unknown, who had been born the day before, and a month prematurely, to Dr. Helen Murray. Merrihew found her lying abed in the laboratory shelter, pale and calm, with the child beside her.

The

constructed roughly

shelter,

little

planks, looked out on the clearing

had used

as a base of operations

of

green

which the Starholm

during the layover; a

beautiful place at the bottom of a

wide

valley, in the

curve of a broad, deep-flowing river. The crew, tired of being shipbound, had built half a dozen such huts

and shacks in these eight months. Merrihew glared down at Helen. He snorted, "This is a fine situation. You, of all the people in the whole

damned crew— the

ship's doctor! It's— it's—" Inarticu-

with rage, he fell back on a ridiculously inadequate phrase. "It's— criminal carelessness!" late

know." Helen Murray, too young and far too lovely for a ship's officer on a ten-year cruise, still looked weak and white, and her voice was a gentle shadow of its crisp self. "I'm afraid four years in space "I

made me

careless."

Merrihew brooded, looking down about

ship-gravity

potency,

conditions,

made conception

at her.

while

Something

not

affecting

impossible; no child

had

ever been conceived in space and none ever would.

On

planet layovers, the effect wore off very slowly;

only after three months aground had Dr. started routine

twenty- two

administration of

women

that time she

Murray

anticeptin to

of the crew, herself included.

had been

was already carrying a

still

unaware

the

At

that she herself

child.

Outside, the leafy forest whispered and rustled, and Merrihew knew Helen had forgotten his existence again. The day-old child was tucked up in one of her

THE WIND PEOPLE

61

To Merrihew, he looked monkey, Helen's like a skinned but eyes smoldered as her hands moved gently over the tiny round head. He stood and listened to the winds and said at random, "These shacks will fall to pieces in another month. It doesn't matter, we'll have taken off by then." Dr. Chao Lin came into the shack, an angular woman of thirty-five. She said, "Company, Helen? rolled coveralls at her side.

Well,

it's

about time. Here,

Helen said

in

weak

let

me

take Robin."

protest, "You're spoiling

me,

Lin."

do you good," Chao Lin returned. Merrihew, in a sudden surge of fury and frustration, exploded, "Damn it, Lin, you're making it all worse. He'll die when we go into overdrive, you know as well "It will

as I do!"

Helen

sat up, clutching

Robin

protectively. "Are

you

proposing to drown him like a kitten?" "Helen, I'm not proposing anything. I'm stating a fact."

"But it's not a fact. He won't die in overdrive because he won't be aboard when we go into overdrive!"

Merrihew looked softened. "Shall

at

Lin helplessly, but

we—put him

to sleep

his

face

and bury him

here?"

The woman's

face turned white. "No!" she cried in

passionate protest, and Lin bent to disengage her frantic grip.

"Helen, you'll hurt him. Put

Merrihew looked down

him down. There."

at her, troubled,

and

said,

"We can't just abandon him to die slowly, Helen—" "Who says I'm going to abandon him?" Merrihew asked desert?"

He

"Are you planning to added, after a minute, "There's a chance slowly,

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY he'll survive.

After

medical precedent.

all,

62

was against

his very birth

all

Maybe—"

"Captain"— Helen's voice sounded desperate—"even drugged, no child under ten has ever endured the shift into hyperspace drive. A newborn would die in seconds." She clasped Robin to her again and said, "It's the only way— you have Lin for a doctor, Reynolds can handle my collateral duties. This planet is

uninhabited, the climate

Her

is

mild,

we

couldn't pos-

was suddenly like rock. "Enter my death in the log, if you want to." Merrihew looked from Helen to Lin, and said, sibly starve."

face, so gentle,

"Helen, you're insane!"

She said, "Even if I'm sane now, I wouldn't be long if I had to abandon Robin." The wild note had died out of her voice, and she spoke rationally, but inflexibly. "Captain Merrihew, to get me aboard the Starholm, you will have to have me drugged or taken by force; I promise you I won't go any other way. And if you do that— and if Robin is left behind, or dies in overdrive, just so you will have my services as a doctor— then I solemnly swear that I will kill myself at the

first

opportunity."

"My God," said Merrihew,

"you are insane!"

Helen gave a very tiny shrug. "Do you want a

madwoman Chao Lin other way.

aboard?" said quietly, "Captain,

We

I

don't see any

would have had to arrange

it

that

way

Helen had actually died in childbirth. Of two unsatisfactory solutions, we must choose the less harmful." And Merrihew knew that he had no real choice. "I still think you're both crazy," he blustered, but it was surrender, and Helen knew it. Ten days after the Starholm took off, young CoHn Reynolds, technician, committed suicide by the messy if

THE WIND PEOPLE

63

procedure of slicing his jugular vein, which— in zero gravity— distributed several quarts of blood in big round globules all over his cabin. He left an incoherent note.

and Chao Lin put the blood in the ship's blood bank for surgery, and they hushed it up as an accident; but Merrihew had the unpleasant feeling that the layover on the green and windy planet was going to become a legend, spread in whispers by the crew. And it did, but that is

Merrihew put the note

in the disposal

another story.

Robin was two years old when he voices in the wind.

crooned

He

first

heard the

pulled at his mother's

arm and

softly, in imitation.

"What

is it,

"Pretty."

lovey?"

He

crooned again to the distant murmur-

ing sound.

Helen smiled vaguely and patted the round cheek. Robin, his infant imagination suddenly distracted, said, "Hungry. Robin hungry. Berries." "Berries after you eat," Helen promised absently, and picked him up. Robin tugged at her arm.

"Mommy pretty, too!" She laughed, a rosy and smiling young Diana. She was happy on the solitary planet; they lived quite comfortably in one of the larger shacks, and only a little frown line between her eyes bore witness to the terror which had closed down on her in the first months, when every new day had been some new struggle— against

weakness,

against

sounds, against loneliness and dread. Nights

unfamiliar

when

she

lay wakeful, sweating with terror while the winds rose

and

fell

again and her imagination gave them voices,

bleak days

when

she wandered dazedly around the

MARION ZLMMER BRADLEY

64

shack or stared moodily at Robin. There had been moments— only fleeting, and penanced with hours of shame and regret— when she thought that even the horror of losing Robin in those

been life

less

when

alone here,

hew had

first

da\'s

would have

than the horror of spending the rest of her she had wondered

why

Merri-

not realized that she was unbalanced, and

forced her to go wdth them; by now, Robin would have been only a moment's painful memorw Still

not strong, knowing she had to be strong for

Robin or he would die as sureh' as if she had abandoned him, she had spent the first months in a somnambulistic dream. Sometimes she had walked for davs at a time in that dream; she would wake to find food that she could not remember gathering. Somehow, persuasive, the dream voices had taken over; the whispering winds had been full of voices and even hands.

She had fallen ill and lain for davs sick and delirious, and had heard a voice which hardly seemed to be her own, saxing that if she died the wind \oices would care for Robin and then the shock and irrationality of that had startled her out of delirium, agonized and trembling, and she pulled herself upright and .

.

.

cried out, "No!"

And

shimmer of eves and voices had faded again into vague echoes, until there was onh- the stir of sunlight on the leaves, and Robin, chubb\' and the

naked, kicking in the sunlight, cooing with his hands outstretched to the rustle of leaves and shadows.

She had known, then, that she had to get well. She had never heard the \\4nd voices again, and her crisp,

mind rejected the fanciful theorv that if she onlv beHeved in the wind voices she would see their forms and hear their words clearly. And she rejected scientific

THE WIND PEOPLE them

so thoroughly that

she shut them

when

65

she heard them speak,

away from her mind, and

after a time

heard them no longer, except in restless dreams. By now she had accepted the isolation and the beauty of their world, and begun to make a happy life for Robin.

For lack of other occupation last summer— though the winter was mild and there was no lack of fruits and roots even then— Helen had patiently snared male and female of small animals like rabbits, and now she had a pen of them. They provided a change of diet, and after a few smelly unsuccessful experiments she had devised a way to supple their fur pelts. She made no effort at gardening, though when Robin was older she might try that. For the moment, it was enough that they were healthy and safe and protected. Robin was listening again. Helen bent her ear, sharpened by the silence, but heard only the rustle of wind and leaves; saw only falling brightness along a silvered tree-trunk.

Wind? When

there were no branches stirring?

up the baby boy and squeezed him before hoisting him "Ridiculous," she said sharply, then snatched

astride her hip.

"Mommy

doesn't

mean

you, Robin.

Let's look for berries."

But soon she realized that his head was tipped back and that he was listening, again, to some sound she could not hear.

On what had made building.

she said was Robin's

fifth

birthday, Helen

him in another room of the He missed the warmth of Helen's body, and a special

bed

for

the comforting sound of her breathing; for Robin,

had been a wakeful child. on the first night alone, Robin

since birth, Yet,

felt

curiously

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY freed.

He

66

did something he had never dared do be-

fore, for fear of

waking Helen; he sHpped from

his

bed and stood in the doorway, looking into the forest. The forest was closer to the doorway now; Robin could fuzzily remember when the clearing had been wider. Now, slowly, beyond the garden patch which Helen kept cleared, the underbrush and saplings were growing back, and even what Robin called "the burned place" was covered with new sparse grass. Robin was accustomed to being alone during the day— even in his first year, Helen had had to leave him alone, securely fastened in the house, or inside a little tight-fenced yard. But he was not used to being alone at night.

Far

off in

the forest, he could hear the whispers of

the other people. Helen said there were no other people, but Robin

knew

because he could hear fragments of the songs Helen sang at bedtime. And sometimes he could almost see them in the shadowy spots.

their voices

better,

on the wind,

like

Once when Helen had been sick, a long time ago, and Robin had run helplessly from the fenced yard to the inside room and back again, hungry and dirty and furious because Helen only slept on the bed with her eyes closed, rousing up now and then to whimper like he did when he fell down and skinned his knee, the winds and voices had come into the very house; Robin had hazy memories of soothing voices, of hands that touched him more softly than Helen's hands. But he could not quite remember. Now that he could hear them so clearly, he would go and find the other people. And then if Helen was sick again, there would be someone else to play with him and look after him. He thought gleefully. Wont Helen he surprised? and darted off across the clearing.

THE WIND PEOPLE

67

Helen woke, roused not by a sound but by a silence. She no longer heard Robin's soft breaths from the alcove, and after a moment she realized something else:

The winds were

silent.

Perhaps, she thought, a storm was coming.

Some

change in air pressure could cause this stillness— but Robin? She tiptoed to the alcove; as she had suspected, his bed was empty. Where could he be? In the clearing? With a storm coming? She slid her feet into handmade sandals and ran outside, her quivering call ringing out through the silent forest:

"Robin— oh, Robin!" Silence.

And

And

for the

far

first

away

a

little

time since that

ominous whisper.

first

frightening year

of loneliness, she felt lost, deserted in an alien world.

She ran across the clearing, looking around wildly, trying to decide which way he could have wandered. Into the forest? What if he had strayed toward the riverbank? There was a place where the bank crumbled away, down toward the rapids— her throat closed convulsively, and her call was almost a shriek: "Oh, Robin! Robin, darling! Robin!" She ran through the paths worn by their feet, hearing snatches of rustle, winds and leaves suddenly vocal in the cold moonlight around her. It was the first time since the spaceship left them that Helen had ventured out into the night of their world. She called again, her voice cracking in panic.

"Ro-bin!"

A

gleam revealed a glint of white, and a child stood in the middle of the path. Helen gasped with relief and ran to snatch up her son— then fell back in dismay. It was not Robin who stood there.

sudden

stray

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY The

child

68

was naked, about a head shorter than

Robin, and female.

There was something curious about the bare and gleaming flesh, as if she could see the child only in the full flush of

the moonlight.

A

round, almost expres-

was surrounded by a mass of colorless streaming hair, the exact color of the moonlight.

sionless face

Helen's audible gasp startled her to a stop: she shut

her eyes convulsively, and

when

she opened them the

path was black and empty and Robin was running dowm the track toward her. Helen caught him up, with a strangled cr)', and ran, clasping him to her breast, back down the path to their shack. Inside, she barred the door and laid Robin dowTi in her own bed, and threw herself down shivering, too shaken to speak, too shaken to scold him, curiously afraid to question. told

herself,

a

I

had

hallucination,

a hallucination, she

another

dream,

a

dream ...

A

like the other Dream. She dignified it to The Dream because it was not like anyother dream she had ever had. She had dreamed it first before Robin's birth, and been ashamed to speak of it to Chao Lin, fearing the common-sense skepticism of the older woman.

dream,

herself as

On

on the green planet (the Starholm was a dim recollection now), when Merrihew's scientists had been convinced that the little world was safe, without wild beasts or diseases or savage natives, the crew had requested permission to camp in the their tenth night

valley clearing beside the river. Permission granted,

they had gone apart in couples almost as usual, and even those who had no enduring liaison at the mo-

ment had found

a partner for the night.

THE WIND PEOPLE

69

must have been that night Colin Reynolds was two years younger than Helen, and their attachment, enduring over a few months of shiptime, was based less on mutual passion than on a sort of boyish need in him, a sort of impersonal feminine solicitude in Helen. All her affairs had been like that, companionable, comfortable, but never passionate. Curiously enough, Helen was a woman capable of passion, of great depths of devotion; but no man had ever roused it and now no man ever would. Only Robin's birth had touched her deeply pent emotions. But that night, when Colin Reynolds was sleeping, Helen stayed restlessly awake, hearing the unquiet stirring of wind on the leaves. After a time she wandered down to the water's edge, staying a cautious distance from the shore— for the cliff crumbled dangerously—and stretched herself out to listen to the wind- voices. And after a time she fell asleep, and had The Dream, which was to return to her again and It

.

.

.

again.

Helen thought of herself as a scientist, without room for fantasies, and that was why she called it, fiercely, a dream; a dream born of some undiagnosed conflict in her. Even to herself Helen would not recall it in full. There had been a man, and to her it seemed that he was part of the green and windy world, and he had found her sleeping by the river. Even in her drowsy state, Helen had suspected that perhaps one of the other crew members, like herself sleepless and drawn to the shining water, had happened upon her there; such things were not impossible, manners and mores being what they were among starship crews. But to her, half dreaming, there had been some strangeness about him, which prevented her from seeing him too clearly even in the brilliant green

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY moonlight.

No dream and no man had

it was dream which kept her

Hving to her; and the

she discovered

(

70

ever seemed so

her fierce rationalization of silent,

to her horror

she was with child. She had

and

months

secret despair

felt that

the haze and secret delight of the

later,

when )

that

she would lose

dream

if

she openly

acknowledged that Colin had fathered her child. But at first— in the cool green morning that followed—she had not been at all sure it was a dream. Seeing only sunlight and leaves, she had held back from speaking, not wanting ridicule; could she have asked each man of the Starholm, "Was it you who came to me last night? Because if it was not, there are other men on this world, men who cannot be clearly seen even by moonlight." Severely she reminded herself, Merrihew's men had pronounced the world uninhabited, and uninhabited it must be. Five years later, hugging her sleeping son close, Helen remembered the dream, examined the content of her fantasy, and once again, shivering, repeated, "I had a hallucination. It was only a dream. ." A dream, because I was alone .

When

.

Robin was fourteen years old, Helen told him the story of his birth, and of the ship. He was a tall, silent boy, strong and hardy but not talkative; he heard the story almost in silence, and looked at Helen for a long time in silence afterward. He finally said in a whisper, "You could have died— you gave up a lot for me, Helen, didn't you?" He knelt and took her face in his hands. She smiled and drew a little away from him. "Why are you looking at me like that, Robin?" The boy could not put instant words to his thoughts; emotions were not in his vocabulary. Helen

THE WIND PEOPLE

71

had taught him everything she knew, but she had always concealed her feelings from her son. He asked at last,

"Why

didn't

my father stay with you?"

suppose it entered his head," Helen said. "He was needed on the ship. Losing me was bad enough." Robin said passionately, "I'd have stayed!" "I don't

The woman found stay,

He

herself laughing.

"Well— you did

Robin." asked,

"Am

I

like

my father?" at her son, trying to see the

Helen looked gravely

young Reynolds in the boy's like Colin Reynolds, nor not look Robin did face. No, like Helen herself. She picked up his hand in hers; despite his robust health, Robin never tanned; his skin was pearly pale, so that in the green sunlight it blended into the forest almost invisibly. His hand lay in Helen's palm like a shadow. She said at last, "No, nothing like him. Rut under this sun, that's to be

half -forgotten features of

expected."

Robin said confidently, "I'm like the other people." "The ones on the ship? They—" "No," Robin interrupted, "you always said when I was older you'd tell me about the other people. I

mean the other people The ones you can't see."

here.

The ones

in the

woods.

Helen stared at the boy in blank disbelief. "What do you mean? There are no other people, just us." Then she recalled that every imaginative child invents playmates. Alone, she thought, Robin's always alone, no

wonder he's a little—strange. She "You dreamed it, Robin."

other children, no said quietly,

The boy only tion.

stared at her in bleak, blank aliena-

"You mean," he said, "you He got up and walked out

either?"

can't

hear them,

of the hut.

Helen

"

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

72

but he didn't turn back. She ran after him, catching at his arm, stopping him almost by force. She whispered, "Robin, Robin, tell me what you mean! There isn't anyone here. Once or twice I thought I had seen— something, by moonlight, only it was a dream. called,

Please, "If

Robin— please— only a dream,

it's

why

are you frightened?"

Robin asked, through a curious constriction in his /' throat. "If they've never hurt you No, they had never hurt her. Even if, in her longago dream, one of them had come to her. And the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair— a. scrap of memory from a vanished life on another world sang in Helen's thoughts. She looked up at the pale, impatient face of her son, and swallowed .

.

hard.

Her voice was

husk)^

when

she spoke. "Did

I

ever

you about rationalization— when you want something to be true so much that you can make it sound

tell

right to yourself?"

wanted not

to

happen to something you be true?" Robin retorted with a muti-

nous curl of

his

mouth.

"Couldn't

that

also

Helen would not

go his arm. She begged, "Robin, no, you'll only waste your life and break your heart looking for something that doesn't exist." The bov looked down into her shaken face, and suddenh' a new emotion welled up in him and he

dropped

let

to his knees beside her

against her breast.

He

and buried

whispered, "Helen,

his face

I'll

never

never do anything you don't want me to do, I don't want anvone but you." And for the first time in manv vears, Helen broke into \\ald and uncontrollable crying, without knowing why she wept.

leave you,

I'll

THE WIND PEOPLE

73

Robin did not speak again of his quest in the forest. For many months he was quiet and subdued, staying near the clearing, hovering near Helen for days at a time, then disappearing into the forest at dusk.

heard the winds numbly, deaf

to their

He

promise and

their call.

Helen too was quiet and withdrawn, feeling Robin's alienation through his submissive mood. She found herself

speaking to him sharply for being always when he vanished into

underfoot; yet, on the rare days

the forest and did not return until after sunset, she felt a restless unease that set her wandering the paths herself, not following him,

she

knew he was within

but simply uneasy unless

call.

Once, in the shadows just before sunset, she thought she saw a man moving through the trees, and for an instant, as he turned toward her, she saw that he was naked. She had seen him only for a second or two, and after he had slipped between the shadows

again

common

sense told her

it

was Robin. She was

vaguely shocked and annoyed; she firmly intended to speak to him, perhaps to scold him for running about

naked and slipping away like that; then, in a remote embarrassment, she forbore to mention

sort of it.

But

after that, she kept out of the forest.

Robin had been vaguely aware of her surveillance and knew when it ceased. But he did not give up his own pointless rambles, although even to himself he no longer spoke of searching, or of any dreamlike inhabitants of the woods. At times it still seemed that some shadow concealed a half-seen form, and the distant

murmur

gi-ew into a voice that

mocked him;

a white

arm, the shadow of a face, until he lifted his head and stared straight at

it.

One evening toward

twilight

he saw a sudden

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY shimmer

in the trees,

and he

stray ghnt resolved itself

first

74

stood, fixedly, as the into a white face with

shadowy eyes, then into a translucent flicker of bare arms, and then into the form of a woman, arrested for an instant vvdth her hand on the bole of a tree. In the shadowy spot, filled only with the last ray of a cloudy sunset, she was very clear; not cloudy or unreal, but so distinct that he could see even a small smudge or bramble scratch on her shoulder, and a fallen leaf tangled

in

her

colorless

watched her pause, and

hair.

turn,

and

Robin, smile,

paralyzed,

and then she

melted into the shadows.

He

stood with his heart pounding for a second after

she had gone; then whirled, bursting with the exciteof his discovery, and ran down the path toward home. Suddenly he stopped short, the world tilting and reeling, and fell on his face in a bed of dry leaves. He was still ignorant of the nature of the emotion in him. He felt onlv intolerable miserv and the conviction that he must never, never speak to Helen of what he had seen or felt. He lay there, his burning face pressed into the leaves, unaware of the rising wind, the little flurry of blown leaves, the growing darkness and distant thunder. At last an icy spatter of rain aroused him, and cold, numbed, he made his way slowly homeward. Over his head the boughs creaked woodenly, and Robin, under the driving whips of the rain, felt their tumult only echoed his own voiceless agony. He was drenched by the time he pushed the door of the shack open and stumbled blindly toward the fire, only hoping that Helen would be sleeping. But she started up from beside the hearth they had built together last summer.

ment

"Robinr

THE WIND PEOPLE Deathly weary, the boy snapped,

75

"Who

else

would

itber Helen didn't answer. She came to him, a small swiftmoving figure in the firelight, and drew him into the warmth. She said, almost humbly, "I was afraid— the storm— Robin, you're all wet, come to the fire and dry out."

Robin yielded, his twitching nerves partly soothed by her voice. How tiny Helen is, he thought, and I can remember that she used to carry me around on one arm; now she hardly comes to my shoulder. She brought him food and he ate wolfishly, listening to the steady pouring rain, uncomfortable under Helens watching eyes. Before his own eyes there was the clear memory of the woman in the wood, and so vivid was Robin's imagination, heightened by loneliness and undiluted by any random impressions, that it seemed to him Helen must see her too. And when she came to stand beside him, the picture grew so keen in his thoughts that he actually pulled himself free of her. The next day dawned gray and still, beaten with long needles of rain. They stayed indoors by the smoldering fire; Robin, half sick and feverish from his drenching, sprawled by the hearth too indolent to move, watching Helen's comings and goings about the room; not realizing why the sight of her slight, quick form against the gray light filled him with such pain and melancholy. The storm lasted four days. Helen exhausted her household tasks and sat restlessly thumbing through the few books she knew by heart— they had allowed her to remove all her personal possessions, all the things she had chosen on a forgotten and faraway Earth for a ten-year star cruise. For the first time in years, Helen was thinking again of the life, the civili-

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY zation she

had thrown away,

for

76

Robin who had been arm and now lay

a pink scrap in the circle of her

sullen on the hearth, not speaking, aimlessly whittling

a stick with the knife (found discarded in a heap of rubbish from the Starholm) which was his dearest

Helen felt slow horror closing in on her. What world, what heritage did I give him, in my madness? This world has driven us both insane. Robin and I are both a little mad, by Earth's standards. And when I die, and I will die first, what then? At that moment Helen would have given her life to believe in his old dream of strange people in the wood. She flung her book restlesslv awav, and Robin, as if waiting for that signal, sat upright and said almost eagerly, "Helen—" Grateful that he had broken the silence of days, she gave him an encouraging smile. "I've been reading your books," he began di£Bdently, "and I read about the sun you came from. It's diflFerent from this one. Suppose— suppose there were actually a kind of people here, and something in this light, or in your e)'es, made them invisible to you." Helen said, "Have you been seeing them again?" He flinched at her ironical tone, and she asked, somewhat more gently, "It's a theory, Robin, but it wouldn't explain, then, why you see them." "Maybe I'm— more used to this light," he said gropingly. "And anyway, you said you thought you'd seen them and thought it was only a dream." Halfway bet\veen exasperation and a deep pity, Helen found herself arguing, "If these other people of possession.

yours really

exist,

why

haven't they

made themselves

known in sixteen years?" The eagerness with which he answered was almost frightening. "I think they only come out at night,

THE WIND PEOPLE

77

what your book calls a primitive civilization." He spoke the words he had read, but never heard, with an odd hesitation. "They're not really a civilizathey're

woods." "A forest people," Helen mused, impressed in spite of herself, "and nocturnal. It's always moonlight or dusky when you see them—"

tion at

all, I

think, they're like— part of the

"Then you do believe me— oh, Helen," Robin cried, and suddenly found himself pouring out the story of what he had seen, in incoherent words, concluding, "and by daylight I can hear them, but I can't see them. Helen, Helen, you have to believe it now, you'll have to let me try to find them and learn to talk to ." them Helen listened with a sinking heart. She knew they should not discuss it now, when five days of enforced housebound proximity had set their nerves and tempers on edge, but some unknown tension hurled her sharp words at Robin. "You saw a woman, and I— a man. These things are only dreams. Do I have to explain more to you?" Robin flung his knife sullenly aside. "You're so .

.

blind, so stubborn."

you are feverish again." Helen rose to go. "You treat me like a child!" "Because you act like one, with your fair)' tales

"I think

He

said wrathfully,

women in

of

the wind."

Suddenly Robin's agony overflowed and he caught at her, holding her around the knees, clinging to her as he had not done since he was a small child, his words stumbling and rushing over one another. "Helen, Helen darling, don't be angry with me," he begged, and caught her in a blind emiDrace that pulled her off her feet. She had never guessed how strong he was; but he seemed very like a little boy, and she

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY hugged him quickly

as

78

he began to cover her face with

childish kisses.

my baby, it's all right," she murkneeling close to him. Gradually the wildness mured, of his passionate crying abated; she touched his fore"Don't cry, Robin,

head with her cheek to see if it was heated with fever, and he reached up and held her there. Helen let him lie

against her shoulder, feeling that perhaps after the

would fall asleep, and she when a sudden shock of reali-

violence of his outburst he

was half-asleep

herself

zation darted through her; quickly she tried to free herself

from Robin's entangling arms.

"Robin,

He

let

me

go."

go of me, Helen. Darling, stay here beside me," he begged, and pressed a kiss into her throat. clung to her, not understanding. "Don't let

Helen, her blood icing over, realized that unless she freed herself very quickly now, she would be fighting against a strong, aroused

young man not

clearly

aware

what he was doing. She took refuge

in the sharp in the vanished maternal note of ten years ago, almost closer, more equal companionship of the time between: "No, Robin. Stop it at once, do you hear?" of

her go, and she rolled quickly away, out of his reach, and got to her feet. Robin, too intelligent to be unaware of her anger and too naive to know its cause, suddenly dropped his head and wept,

Automatically he

wholly unstrung. out. "I

And

let

"Why

are

you angry?" he blurted

was only loving you."

phrase of the five-year-old child, Helen felt her throat would burst with its ache. She managed to choke out, "I'm not angry, Robin— we'll talk about this

at the

later,

I

promise,"

and

then,

her

own

control

vanishing, turned and fled precipitately into the pour-

ing rain.

THE WIND PEOPLE

79

She plunged through the famiHar woods for a long time, in a daze of unthinking misery. She did not even fully realize that she was sobbing and muttering aloud, "No, no, no, no!"

She must have wandered for several hours. The rain had stopped and the darkness was lifting before she began to grow calmer and to think more clearly. She had been blind not to foresee this day when Robin was a child; only if her child had been a daughter could it have been avoided. Or— she was shocked at the hysterical sound of her own laughter —if Colin had stayed and they had raised a family like Adam and Eve! But what now? Robin was sixteen; she was not yet forty. Helen caught at vanishing memories of society; taboos so deeply rooted that for Helen they were instinctual and impregnable. Yet for Robin nothing existed except this little patch of forest and Helen herself— the only person in his world, more specifically at the

moment

the only

woman

in his world. So

much,

she thought bitterly, for instinct. But have I the right to begin this all over again? Worse; have I the right to

deny its existence and, when I die, leave Robin alone? She had stumbled and paused for breath, realizing that she had wandered in circles and that she was at a familiar point on the riverbank which she had avoided for sixteen years.

On

the heels of this realization she

that for onlv the second time in memwinds were wholly stilled. Her eyes, swollen with crying, ached as she tried to pierce the gloom of the mist, lilac-tinted with the approaching sunrise, which hung around the water.

became aware ory, the

Through the dispersing mist she made out, dimly, the form of a man. He was tall, and his pale skin shone with misty

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

80

white colors. Helen sat frozen, her mouth open, and for the space of several seconds he looked down at her without moving. His eyes, dark splashes in the pale face, had an air of infinite sadness and compassion, and she thought his lips moved in speech, but she

heard only a tliin familiar rustle of wind. Behind him, mere flickers, she seemed to make out the ghosts of other faces, tips of fingers of invisible

hands, eyes, the outline of a woman's breast, the curve of

a child's foot.

numbed

state,

all

Then

Tm

For a minute,

in

her defenses went

mad and

Helen's weary

down and

she

dream and Robin isn't Reynolds' son at all. His father was this— one of these— and they've been watching me and Robin, Robin has seen them, he doesn't know he's one of them, but they know. They know and I've kept Robin from them all these sixteen years. The man took two steps toward her, the translucent body shifting to a dozen colors before her blurred eyes. His face had a curious familiarity—/amfZiarf^y— and in a sudden spasm of terror Helen thought, "I'm

thought:

not

it

wasn't a

going mad, it's Robin, it's Robin!" His hand was actually outstretched to touch her when her scream cut icy lashes through the forest, stirring wild echoes in the wind- voices, and she whirled and ran blindly toward the treacherous, crumbling bank. Behind her came steps, a voice, a

cry— Robin, the strange dryad-man, she could not guess.

The horror

of incest, the son the father the lover

suddenly melting into one, overwhelmed her reeling brain and she fled insanely to the brink. She felt a

masculine hand actually gripping her shoulder, she might have been pulled back even then, but she twisted free blindly, shrieking, "No, Robin, no,

and flung

herself

down

no—"

the steep bank, to slip and

THE WIND PEOPLE hurl

downward and

whirl around in the raging cur-

rent to spinning oblivion

Many

81

and death

years later, Merrihew,

.

.

.

grown old

Service, falsified a log entry to send

in the

Space

his ship for a litde

while into the orbit of the tiny green planet he had

named

Robin's World.

The

old buildings

had

fallen

and Merrihew quartered the little world for two months from pole to pole but found nothing. Nothing but shadows and whispers and the unending voices of the wind. Finally, he lifted his ship and went away. into rotted timbers,

THK SHIP WHO SANG ANNE McCaffrey Anne McCafiFrey studied

at RadclifiFe College,

where she

received a degree in Slavonic Languages and Literature.

She

is

the author of several novels,

among them

Restoree,

Decision at Doona, Dragonflight and Dragonquest (all published bv Ballantine). She is also the editor of an anthology,

Alchemy & Academe (Doubleday), and

a cook-

book, Cooking Out of This World (Ballantine), a collec-

She won the Hugo Award for her novella "Weyr Search" and the Nebula for her novella "Dragonrider"; she was the first woman to receive both awards. Ms. McCaffrey lives in Ireland with her three children, a gray Irish horse, a dog and a

by

tion of recipes

science-fiction

writers.

cat.

The cyborg, is is

the subject of

who

human, part machine, many science-fiction stories. The cyborg

a person

is

part

often sympathetically portrayed,

sometimes alienated

from unchanged people, sometimes seeking to reconcile his

human and mechanical

selves.

Helva, the female cyborg

"The Ship Who Sang," is a spaceship, but her thoughts and emotions are still recognizablv human. Her feelings of helplessness and despair are feelings most women have had to conquer; in this character, we see a little of ourin

selves.

She was

demned

bom if

a thing and as such would be conshe failed to pass the encephalograph test

required of aU newborn babies. There was always the 82

THE SHIP WHO SANG

83

though the Hmbs were twisted, the mind was not, that though the ears would hear only dimly, the eyes see vaguely, the mind behind them

possibility that

was receptive and alert. The electroencephalogram was entirely favorable, unexpectedly so, and the news was brought to the waiting, grieving parents. There was the final, harsh decision: to give their child euthanasia or permit

it

to

become an encapsulated "brain," a guiding mechanism in any one of a number of curious professions. As such, their offspring would suffer no pain, live a comfortable existence in a metal shell for several centuries,

performing unusual service to Central Worlds. She lived and was given a name, Helva. For her first three vegetable months she waved her crabbed claws, kicked weakly with her clubbed feet and enjoyed the usual routine of the infant. She was not alone, for there were three other such children in the big city's

Soon they all were removed to Central Laboratory School, where their delicate transforma-

special nursery.

tion began.

One

of the babies died in the initial transferral, but

Helva's "class," seventeen thrived in the metal shells. Instead of kicking feet, Helva's neural reof

sponses started her wheels; instead of grabbing with hands, she manipulated mechanical extensions. As she

matured, more and more neural synapses would be adjusted to operate other mechanisms that went into the maintenance and running of a spaceship. For

Helva was destined

be the "brain" half of a scout ship, partnered with a man or a woman, whichever she chose, as the mobile half. She would be among the elite of

to

her kind. Her

initial intelligence tests regis-

tered above normal and her adaptation index

was

unusually high. As long as her development within her

ANNE McCaffrey

84

up to expectations, and there were no sidefrom the pituitary tinkering, Helva would live a rewarding, rich and unusual life, a far cry from what she would have faced as an ordinary, "normal" being. However, no diagram of her brain patterns, no early IQ tests recorded certain essential facts about Helva that Central must eventually learn. They would have to bide their oflBcial time and see, trusting that the shell lived

effects

massive doses of shell-psychology would suflBce her, too,

as

the necessary bulwark against her unusual

confinement and the pressures of her profession. A human brain could not run rogue or insane with the power and resources Central had to build into their scout ships. Brain ships were, of ship run by a

course, long past the experimental stages.

Most babies

survived the perfected techniques of pituitary manipulation that kept their bodies

small,

eliminating the

necessity of transfers from smaller to larger shells.

And

ver)% very

tion

was made

trial

combine. Shell-people resembled mature dwarfs whatever their natal deformities were, but the

few were

lost

when

the final connec-

to the control panels of ship or indus-

in size

would not have changed places with the most perfect body in the Universe. So, for happy years, Helva scooted around in her shell with her classmates, playing such games as Stall, well-oriented brain

Power-Seek, studying her lessons in trajectory, propulsion techniques, computation, logistics, mental hygiene, basic alien psychology, philology, space history, law,

traflBc,

codes:

all

the et ceteras that eventually

became compounded into a reasoning, logical, informed citizen. Not so obvious to her, but of more importance to her teachers, Helva ingested the precepts of her conditioning as easily as she absorbed her

THE SHIP WHO SANG nutrient fluid. She

85

would one day be

grateful to the

patient drone of the subconscious-level instruction.

Helva's civilization was not without busy, do-good associations, restrial as

exploring possible inhumanities to ter-

well as extraterrestrial citizens.

group— Society

Intelligent Minorities— got

"children"

When

all

when Helva was

they were forced

to.

arranged

a

shoulders,

its

One such

for the Preservation of the Rights of

incensed over shelled just

turning fourteen.

Central Worlds shrugged tour

of

the

Laboratory

Schools and set the tour off to a big start by showing

members case histories, complete with photographs. Very few committees ever looked past the first few photos. Most of their original objections about "shells" were overridden by the relief that these the

hideous (to them) bodies toere mercifully concealed.

was doing fine arts, a selective subject in her crowded program. She had activated one of her microscopic tools which she would later use for Helva's class

minute repairs to various parts of her control panel. Her subject was large— a copy of "The Last Supper"— and her canvas, small— the head of a tiny screw. She had tuned her sight to the proper degree. As she worked she absentmindedly crooned, producing a curious sound. Shell-people used their own vocal chords and diaphragms, but sound issued through microphones rather than mouths. Helva's hum, then, had a curious vibrancy, a warm, dulcet quality even in its aimless chromatic wanderings. "Why, what a lovely voice you have," said one of the female visitors. Helva "looked" up and caught a fascinating panorama of regular, dirty craters on a flaky pink surface. Her hum became a gurgle of surprise. She instinc-

ANNE McCaffrey

86

regulated her "sight" until the skin lost

tively

cratered look

its

and the pores assumed normal pro-

portions.

we have

"Yes,

quite a

few years

of voice training,

madam," remarked Helva calmly. "Vocal peculiarities often become excessively irritating during prolonged interstellar distances and must be eliminated. I enjoyed

my

lessons."

Although

this

was the

first

time that Helva had seen

unshelled people, she took this experience calmly.

would have been reported instantly. meant that you have a nice singing voice

Any

other reaction "I

.

.

.

dear," the lady said.

"Thank you. Would you like to see my work?" Helva asked politely. She instinctively sheered away from personal discussions, but she filed the comment away for further meditation. "Work?" asked the lady. "I

am

currently reproducing 'The Last Supper' on

the head of a screw."

"Oh,

I say,"

the lady twittered.

Helva turned her vision back to magnification and surveyed her copy critically. "Of course, some of my color values do not match the old Master's and the perspective is faulty, but I believe it to be a fair copy."

The

bugged out. and Helva's voice was really contrite. she could have blushed, she would have. "You

"Oh, If

lady's eyes, unmagnified, I

forget,"

people don't have adjustable vision."

The monitor and amusement

of this discourse grinned with pride as Helva's tone indicated pity for the

unfortunate.

"Here, this will help," said Helva, substituting a

magnifying device in one extension and holding over the picture.

it

THE SHIP WHO SANG

87

In a kind of shock, the ladies and gentlemen of the

committee bent to observe the incredibly copied and brilliantly executed Last Supper on the head of a screw.

"Well," remarked one gentleman

who had been

forced to accompany his wife, "the good Lord can eat

where angels fear to tread." "Are you referring, sir," asked Helva politely, "to the Dark Age discussions of the number of angels who could stand on the head of a pin?" "I had that in mind." "If you substitute 'atom' for 'angel,' the problem is not insoluble, given the metallic content of the pin in question."

"Which you

are

programmed

to

compute?"

"Of course." "Did they remember to program a sense of humor, as well,

"We

young lady?" are directed to develop a sense of proportion,

which contributes the same effect." The good man chortled appreciatively and decided the trip was worth his time. If the investigation committee spent months digesting the thoughtful food served them at the Laboratory School, they left Helva with a morsel as well. sir,

"Singing" as applicable to herself required research.

She had, of course, been exposed to and enjoyed a music-appreciation

course

that

had

included

the

und

better-known classical works, such as Candide, Oklahoma, and Nozze diFigaro, along with the atomic-age singers, Birgit Nilsson, Bob Dylan, and Geraldine Todd, as well as the curious rhythmic progressions of the Venusians, Capellan Tristan

Isolde,

visual chromatics, the sonic concerti of the Altairians

and Reticulan croons. But "singing"

for

any

shell-

ANNE McCaffrey

88

person posed considerable technical difficulties. Shellpeople were schooled to examine every aspect of a

problem or situation before making a prognosis. Balanced properly between optimism and practicality, the nondefeatist attitude of the shell-people led them to extricate themselves, their ships, and personnel, from bizarre situations. Therefore to Helva, the problem that she couldn't open her mouth to sing, among other restrictions, did not bother her. She would work out a method, by-passing her limitations, whereby she could sing.

She approached the problem by investigating the methods of sound reproduction through the centuries, human and instrumental. Her own sound-production equipment was essentially more instrumental than vocal. Breath control and the proper enunciation of vowel sounds within the oral cavity appeared to require the most development and practice. Shell-people did not, strictly speaking, breathe. For their purposes, oxygen and other gases were not drawn from the surrounding atmosphere through the medium of lungs but sustained artificially by solution in their shells. After experimentation, Helva discovered that she could manipulate her diaphragmic unit to sustain tone. By relaxing the throat muscles and expanding the oral cavity well into the frontal sinuses, she could direct the

vowel sounds into the most

felicitous posi-

tion for proper reproduction through her throat micro-

phone. She compared the results with tape recordings of

modern

her

own

and was not unpleased, although had a peculiar quality about them, not

singers

tapes

unharmonious, merely unique. Acquiring a repertoire from the Laboratory library was no problem to one trained to perfect recall. She found herself able to sing any role and any song which struck her at

all

THE SHIP WHO SANG fancy. It

would not have occurred

89

to her that

it

was

curious for a female to sing bass, baritone, tenor, mezzo, soprano, and coloratura as she pleased. It was, to Helva, only a matter of the correct reproduction and diaphragmatic control required by the music

attempted. If

tion,

the authorities remarked on her curious avoca-

they did so

among

themselves. Shell-people were

encouraged to develop a hobby so long

as they

main-

tained proficiency in their technical work.

On

the anniversary of her sixteenth year, Helva

was

unconditionally graduated and installed in her ship, the XH-834.

Her permanent titanium

shell

was

re-

cessed behind an even more indestructible barrier in the central shaft of the scout ship.

The

neural, audio,

and sensory connections were made and Her extendibles were diverted, connected or augmented and the final, delicate-beyond-description brain taps were completed while Helva remained anesthetically unaware of the proceedings. When she woke, she was the ship. Her brain and intelligence controlled every function from navigation to such loading as a scout ship of her class needed. She could take care of herself and her ambulatory half in any visual,

sealed.

situation already recorded in the annals of Central

Worlds and any situation

its

most

fertile

minds could

imagine.

Her first actual flight, for she and her kind had made mock flights on dummy panels since she was eight, showed her to be a complete master of the techniques of her profession. She was ready for her great adventures and the arrival of her mobile partner. There were nine qualified scouts sitting around collecting base pay the day Helva reported for acti\'e duty. There were several missions that demanded

ANNE McCaffrey

9o

Helva had been

instant attention, but

of interest to

several department heads in Central for

and each bureau

chief

assigned to his section.

some time

was determined to have her No one had remembered to

introduce Helva to the prospective partners.

always chose

its

own

partner.

Had

The

ship

there been another

moment, Helva would have been guided to make the first move. As it was, while Central wrangled among itself, Robert Tanner sneaked out of the pilots' barracks, out to the field and "brain" ship at the base at the

over to Helva's slim metal hull. "Hello,

anyone

at

home?" Tanner

said.

"Of course," replied Helva, activating her outside scanners. "Are you my partner?" she asked hopefully, as she recognized the Scout Service uniform.

"All

you have

to

do

is

ask,"

he retorted in a wistful

tone.

"No one has come. I thought perhaps there were no partners available and I've had no directives from Central."

Even

Helva sounded a little self-pitying, but the truth was she was lonely, sitting on the darkened field. She had always had the company of other shells and more recently, technicians by the score. The sudden solitude had lost its momentary charm and become oppressive. "No directives from Central is scarcely a cause for regret, but there happen to be eight other guys biting their fingernails to the quick just waiting for an invitation to board you, you beautiful thing." Tanner was inside the central cabin as he said this, running appreciative fingers over her panel, the scout's gravity-chair, poking his head into the cabins, the to herself

compartments. you want to goose Central and do us a.

galley, the head, the pressured-storage

"Now,

if

THE favor

all

SHIP

WHO

SANG

91

up the barracks and

in one, call

have a

let's

ship-warming partner-picking party. Hmmmm?" Helva chuckled to herself. He was so completely different from the occasional visitors or the various Laboratory technicians she had encountered. He was

and she was delighted by

so gay, so assured,

suggestion of a partner-picking party. Certainly

it

his

was

not against anything in her understanding of regulations.

"Cencom,

this

is

XH-834. Connect

me

with Pilot

Barracks." "Visual?*'

"Please/*

A

picture of lounging

boredom came on her "This

me

is

men

in various attitudes of

screen.

XH-834. Would the unassigned scouts do

the favor of coming aboard?"

Eight figures were galvanized into action, grabbing pieces of wearing apparel, disengaging tape mechanisms, disentangling themselves from bedsheets and towels.

Helva

the

dissolved

connection

chuckled gleefully and settled

down

while

Tanner

to await their

arrival.

Helva was engulfed in an unshell-like flurry of anticipation. No actress on her opening night could have been more apprehensive, fearful or breathless. Unlike the actress, she could throw no hysterics, china ohjets d'art or grease paint to relieve her tension. She could, of course, check her stores for edibles and drinks, which she did, serving Tanner from the virgin selection of her commissary.

known as "brawns" as op"brains." They had to pass as

Scouts were colloquially

posed to their ship rigorous a training

program

as the brains

and only the

ANNE McCaffrey

92

percent of each contributory world's highest scholars were admitted to Central Worlds Scout

top

1

Training Program. Consequently the eight young men who came pounding up the gantry into Helva's hospilock were unusually fine

table

looking,

intelligent,

well-coordinated and well-adjusted young men, looking

forward to a ting,

and

all

drunken evening, Helva permitquite willing to do each other dirt to get slightly

possession of her.

Such a human invasion

left

Helva mentally breath-

less, a luxury she thoroughly enjoyed for the brief time she felt she should permit it.

She sorted out the young men. Tanner's opportunism amused but did not specifically attract her; the blond Nordsen seemed too simple; dark-haired Alatpay had a kind of obstinacy for which she felt no compassion; Mir-Ahnin's bitterness hinted an inner darkness she did not wish to lighten, although he made the biggest outward play for her attention. Hers was a curious courtship— this would be only the first of several marriages for her, for brawns retired after seventv-five years of service, or earlier if they were unlucky. Brains, their bodies safe from any deterioration, were indestructible. In theors', once a shellperson had paid off the massive debt of early care, surgical adaptation and maintenance charges, he or she was free to seek employment elsewhere. In practice, shell-people remained in the Service until they chose to self-destruct or died in line of duty. Helva had actually spoken to one shell-person 322 years old. She had been so awed by the contact she hadn't pre-

sumed

to ask the personal questions she

had wanted

to.

Her choice others

until

of a

brawn did not stand out from the

Tanner started

to

sing a scout ditty.

|

i

'

THE

SHIP

WHO

SANG

93

recounting the misadventures of the bold, dense, pain-

Brawn. An attempt at harmony recacophony and Tanner wagged his arms

fully inept Billy

sulted in

wildly for silence.

"What we need

is

a roaring good lead tenor. Jennan,

what do you

besides palming aces,

sing?"

"Sharp," Jennan replied with easy good humor. "If a tenor is absolutely necessary,

I'll

attempt

it,"

Helva volunteered. "My good woman," Tanner protested. "Sound your 'A,' " said Jennan, laughing. Into the stunned silence that followed the rich, clear, high "A," Jennan remarked quietly, "Such an *A' Caruso would have given the rest of his notes to sing." It

did not take them long to discover her

full

range.

Tanner asked for was one roaring good lead tenor," Jennan said jokingly, "and our sweet mistress supplied us an entire repertory company. The boy "All

who gets

go far, far, far." "To the Horsehead Nebula?" asked Nordsen, quoting an old Central saw. "To the Horsehead Nebula and back, we shall make this ship will

beautiful music," said Helva, chuckling.

"Together," Jennan said. "Only you'd better the music and, with my voice, I'd better listen." "I rather

imagined

it

would be

I

who

make

listened," sug-

gested Helva.

Jennan executed a stately bow with an intricate crush-brimmed hat. He directed his bow toward the central control pillar where Helva

flourish of his

Her own personal preference crystallized at that precise moment and for that particular reason: Jennan, alone of the men, had addressed his remarks was.

directly at her physical presence, regardless of the fact

that he

knew she could

pick up his image wherever he

ANNE McCaffrey

94

was in the ship and regardless of the fact that her body was behind massive metal walls. Throughout their partnership, Jennan never failed to turn his head in her direction no matter where he was in relation to her. In response to this personalization, Helva at that moment and from then on always spoke to Jennan only through her central mike, even though that was not always the most eflBcient method.

Helva didn't know that she fell in love with Jennan that evening. As she had never been exposed to love or affection, only the drier cousins, respect and admiration, she could scarcely have recognized her reaction to the warmth of his personality and thoughtfulness. As a shell-person, she considered herself remote from emotions largely connected with physical desires. "Well, Helva, it's been swell meeting you," said Tanner suddenly as she and Jennan were arguing about the baroque quality of "Come All Ye Sons of Art." "See you in space sometime, you lucky dog, Jennan. Thanks for the party, Helva." "You don't have to go so soon?" asked Helva, realizing belatedly that she and Jennan had been excluding the others from this discussion. "Best man won," Tanner said wryly. "Guess I'd better go get a tape on love ditties. Might need 'em for the next ship, if there're any more at home like you." Helva and Jennan watched them leave, both a little confused.

"Perhaps Tanner's jumping to conclusions?" Jennan asked.

Helva regarded him

he slouched against the console, facing her shell directly. His arms were crossed on his chest and the glass he held had been empty for some time. He was handsome, they all were; but his watchful eyes were unwary, his mouth as

;

^

THE SHIP WHO SANG

95

assumed a smile easily, his voice ( to which Helva was particularly drawn) was resonant, deep, and without unpleasant overtones or accent. "Sleep on

it,

at

any

rate,

me

Helva. Call

in the

morning if it's your opt." She called him at breakfast, after she had checked her choice through Central. Jennan moved his things aboard, received their joint commission, had his personality

and experience

file

locked into her reviewer,

gave her the coordinates of their 834 officially became the JH-834. Their

first

first

mission.

The XH-

mission was a dull but necessary crash

(Medical got Helva), rushing a vaccine to a distant system plagued with a virulent spore disease.

priority

They had only After the

mum

to get to Spica as fast as possible.

initial, thrilling

forward surge

at her maxi-

speed, Helva realized her muscles were to be

given less of a workout than her mission.

brawn on

But they did have plenty of time

this tedious

for explor-

ing each other's personalities. Jennan, of course,

knew

what Helva was capable of as a ship and partner, just as she knew what she could expect from him. But these were only facts and Helva looked forward eagerly to learning that

human

side of her partner

which could not be reduced to a series of symbols. Nor could the give and take of two personalities be learned from a book. It had to be experienced. "My father was a scout, too, or is that programmed?" began Jennan their third day out. "Naturally."

you know. You've got all my family history and I don't know one blamed thing about yours." "I've never known either," Helva said. "Until I read "Unfair,

ANNE McCaffrey yours,

it

hadn't occurred to

me

I

96

must have one,

too,

someplace in Central's files." Jennan snorted. "Shell psychology!'* Helva laughed. "Yes, and I'm even programmed against curiosity about it. You'd better be, too." Jennan ordered a drink, slouched into the gravity couch opposite her, put his feet on the bumpers, turning himself idly from side to side on the gimbals. ." "Helva— a made-up name "With a Scandinavian sound." "You aren't blond," Jennan said positively. .

.

"Well, then, there're dark Swedes."

"And blond Turks and

this one's

harem

is

limited to

one."

"Your

woman

in purdah, yes, but

you can comb the

pleasure houses—" Helva found herself aghast at the

edge to her carefully trained voice. "You know," Jennan interrupted her, deep in some thought of his own, "my father gave me the impression he was a lot more married to his ship, the Silvia, than to my mother. I know I used to think Silvia was my grandmother. She was a low number, so she must have been a great-great-grandmother at least. I used to talk to her for hours."

"Her registry?" asked Helva, unwittingly jealous of everyone and anyone who had shared his hours. "422. I think she's TS now. I ran into Tom Burgess once."

Jennan's father had died of a planetary disease, the

vaccine for which his ship had used up in curing the local citizens.

"Tom

and salty. You come back and haunt you,

said she'd got might)^ tough

your sweetness and I'll Jennan threatened. Helva laughed. He startled her by stamping up to

lose

girl,"

THE the

SHIP

WHO

SANG

column panel, touching

97

with

it

light,

tender

fingers. "I

wonder what you look

like,"

he said

softly, wist-

fully.

Helva had been briefed about this natural curiosity of scouts. She didn't know anything about herself and neither of them ever would or could. "Pick any form, shape, and shade and I'll be yours obliging," she countered, as training suggested.

"Iron Maiden,

fancy blondes with long tresses," and Jennan pantomimed Lady Godiva-like tresses. I

"Since you're immolated in titanium,

Brunehilde,

With

my dear," and he made his

call

you

a chortle, Helva launched into the appropriate

aria just as Spica

made

contact.

"What'n'ell's that yelling about?

unless you're Central

ship

Who

are you?

And

Worlds Medical, go away. We've

No visiting privileges."

got a plague.

"My

I'll

bow.

is

singing, we're the

we've got your vaccine.

What

JH-834

of

Worlds and

are our landing co-

ordinates?"

"Your ship

is

singing?"

"The greatest S.A.T.B.

in

organized space.

Any

request?**

The JH-834 delivered the vaccine but no more arias and received immediate orders to proceed to Leviticus IV. By the time they got there, Jennan found a reputation awaiting him and was forced to defend the 834's virgin honor. "I'll stop singing," murmured Helva contritely as she ordered up poultices for his third black eye in a week. "You will not," Jennan said through gritted teeth. "If I have to black eyes from here to the Horsehead to keep the snicker out of the title, we'U be the ship who

sings."

ANNE McCaffrey After the "ship

who

98

sings" tangled with a minor but

vicious narcotic ring in the Lesser Magellanics, the title

became

definitely respectful. Central

was aware

and punched out a "special interest" key on JH-834's file. A first-rate team was shaking of each episode

down

well.

Jennan and Helva considered themselves a

first-rate

team, too, after their tidy arrest.

"Of

the vices in the universe,

all

I

hate drug addic-

Jennan remarked as they headed back to Central Base. "People can go to hell quick enough tion,"

without that kind of help." "Is that why you volunteered for Scout Service? To redirect "I'll

traflfic?"

bet

my

oflBcial

answer's on your review/'

"In far too flowery wording. 'Carrying on the traditions of

my

which has been proud of four Service,' if I may quote you your own

family,

generations in

words."

was very young when I wrote hadn't been through Final Training.

Jennan groaned. that. I certainly

And once me fail

let

"As

I

I .

was .

"I

in Final Training,

my

pride wouldn't

.

mentioned,

I

used to

visit

Dad on board

the

and I've a very good idea she might have had her eye on me as a replacement for my father because I had had massive doses of scout-oriented propaganda. It took. From the time I was seven, I was going to be a scout or else." He shrugged as if deprecating a youthful determination that had taken a great deal of mature application to bring to fruition. "Ah, so? Scout Sahir Silan on the JS-422 penetrating into the Horsehead Nebula?" Jennan chose to ignore her sarcasm. "With you, 1 may even get that far. But even with Silvia

THE SHIP WHO SANG Silvia's

nudging

of glory in

my

/

99

never daydreamed myself that kind

wildest flights of fancy.

I'll

leave the

your agile brain henceforth. I have in mind a smaller contribution to space history." "So modest?" "No. Practical. We also serve, et cetera." He placed a dramatic hand on his heart. "Glory hound!" scoffed Helva. "Look who's talking, my Nebula-bound friend. At least I'm not greedy. There'll only be one hero like my dad at Parsaea, but I would like to be remembered for

whoppers

to

some kudos. Everyone

does.

Why else do or die?"

"Your father died on his way back from Parsaea, if I may point out a few cogent facts. So he could never have known he was a hero for damming the flood with his ship. Which kept the Parsaean colony from being abandoned. Which gave them a chance to discover the antiparalytic qualities of Parsaea. Which he never knew." "I know," said Jennan softly. Helva was immediately sorry for the tone of her rebuttal. She knew very well how deep Jennan's attachment to his father had been. On his review a note was made that he had rationalized his father's loss with the unexpected and welcome outcome of the Affair at Parsaea.

"Facts are not human, Helva.

am

And Amid

I.

834.

My

father was and so Check over your dial, the wires attached to you is a heart, an

hasicaUij, so are you. all

underdeveloped human heart. Obviously!" "I apologize,

Jennan," she said.

Jennan hesitated a moment, threw out his hands acceptance and then tapped her shell affectionately. "If

they ever take us

off

stab at the Nebula, huh?"

the milkruns, we'll

make

in

a

ANNE McCaffrey As so frequently happened

in

loo

the Scout Service,

within the next hour they had orders to change course, not to the Nebula, but to a recently colonized system

with two habitable planets, one tropical, one

The

sun,

named

Ravel,

glacial.

had become unstable; the

spectrum was that of a rapidly expanding shell, with absorption lines rapidly displacing toward violet. The augmented heat of the primary had already forced evacuation of the nearer world, Daphnis. The pattern of spectral emissions gave indication that the sun would sear Chloe as well. All ships in the immediate spatial vicinity were to report to Disaster Headquarters on Chloe to eflFect removal of the remaining colonists.

The JH-834 obediently presented itself and was sent to outlying areas on Chloe to pick up scattered settlers

who

did not appear to appreciate the urgency of the

was enjoying the first temit had been flung out of its parent. Since many of the colonists were religious fanatics who had settled on rigorous Chloe to fit themsituation. Chloe, indeed,

peratures above freezing since

selves for a life of pious reflection,

thaw was attributed

to sources

Chloe's abrupt

other than a ram-

paging sun.

Jennan had to spend so much time countering specious arguments that he and Helva were behind

schedule on their ment.

way

to the fourth

and

last settle-

Helva jumped over the high range of jagged peaks that surrounded and sheltered the valley from the former raging snows as well as the present heat. The violent sun with its flaring corona was just beginning to brighten the deep valley as Helva dropped down to a landing.

THE SHIP WHO SANG

101

"They'd better grab their toothbrushes and hop aboard/* Helva said. "HQ says speed it up."

women," remarked Jennan in surprise as he walked down to meet them. "Unless the men on Chloe wear furred skirts." "All

"Charm 'em but pare

the routine to the bare essen-

And turn on your two-way private." Jennan advanced smiling, but his explanation of his mission was met with absolute incredulity and considerable doubt as to his authenticity. He groaned inwardly as the matriarch paraphrased previous explatials.

nations of the

warming sun.

"Revered mother, there's been an overload on that prayer circuit and the sun is blowing itself up in one obliging burst. I'm here to take you to the spaceport at Rosary—" "That Sodom?" The worthy woman glowered and shuddered disdainfully at his suggestion. "We thank you for your warning but we have no wish to leave our cloister for the rude world. We must go about our morning meditation which has been interrupted—" "It'll be permanently interrupted when that sun starts broiling you. You must come now," Jennan said firmly.

"Madame," said Helva, realizing that perhaps a female voice might carry more weight in this instance than Jennan's very masculine charm. "Who spoke?" cried the nun, startled by the bodiless voice. "I,

Helva, the ship. Under

my

protection you and

your sisters-in-faith may enter safely and be unprofaned by association with a male. I will guard you and take you safely to a place prepared for you." The matriarch peered cautiously into the ship's

ANNE McCaffrey open

102

Worlds is permitted the acknowledge that you are not young man. However, we are in no

port. "Since only Central

use of such ships, trifling

with

us,

I

danger here." "The temperature at Rosary is now 99 degrees," said Helva. "As soon as the sun's rays penetrate directly into this valley, it will also be 99 degrees, and it is due to climb to approximately 180 degrees today. I notice your buildings are made of wood with moss chinking. Dry moss. It should fire around noontime." The sunlight was beginning to slant into the valley through the peaks, and the fierce rays warmed the restless group behind the matriarch. Several opened the throats of their furry parkas.

"Jennan," said Helva privately to him, "our time very short." "I can't leave

them, Helva. Some of those

girls

is

are

barely out of their teens." "Prettv, too.

No wonder

the matriarch doesn't want

to get in."

"Helva."

be the Lord's will," said the matriarch and turned her back squarely on rescue. "To burn to death?" shouted Jennan as she threaded her way through her murmuring disciples. "They want to be martyrs? Their opt, Jennan," said Helva dispassionately, "We must leave and that is no "It

will

stoutly

longer a matter of option."

"How can

I

leave, Helva?"

"Parsaea?" Helva asked tauntingly as he stepped

forward to grab one of the women. "You can't drag them all aboard and we don't have time to fight it out. Get on board, Jennan, or I'll have you on report." "They'll die," muttered Jennan dejectedly as he reluctantly turned to climb on board.

WHO

THE SHIP

SANG

103

much," Helva said sympathetically. "As it is we'll just have time to make a rendezvous. Lab reports a critical speedup in spectral

"You can

risk only

so

evolution."

Jennan was already in the airlock when one of the younger women, screaming, rushed to squeeze in the

Her

They stampeded through the narrow opening. Even crammed back to breast, there was not enough room inside for all the women. Jennan broke out spacesuits for the three who would have to remain with him in the airclosing port.

lock.

He wasted

action set off the others.

valuable time explaining to the matri-

arch that she must put on the suit because the airlock

had no independent oxygen

or cooling units.

"We'll be caught," said Helva in a grim tone to

Jennan

on

their

private

connection.

"We've

eighteen minutes in this last-minute rush.

I

lost

am now

overloaded for maximum speed and I must attain maximum speed to outrun the heat wave."

"Can you

lift?

We're

suited."

"Lift? Yes," she said, doing so.

"Run?

I

stagger."

Jennan, bracing himself and the women, could feel her sluggishness as she blasted upward. Heartlessly,

Helva applied thrust

as

long as she could, despite the

mashed her cabin passengers brutally and crushed two fatally. It was a question of saving as many as possible. The only one for whom she had any concern was Jennan and she was in desperate terror about his safety. Airless and

fact that the

gravitational force

uncooled, protected by only one layer of metal, not

was not going to be safe for the four trapped there, despite their spacesuits. These were only the standard models, not built to withstand the excessive heat to which the ship would be subjected. Helva ran as fast as she could but the incredible

three, the airlock

ANNE McCaffrey

io4

of heat from the explosive sun caught them halfway to cold safety. She paid no heed to the cries, moans, pleas, and prayers in her cabin. She listened only to Jennan's

wave

tortured breathing, to the missing throb in his

suit's

purif)ing system and the sucking of the overloaded cooling

unit.

Helpless,

she

heard

the

hysterical

screams of his three companions as they writhed in the awful heat. Vainly, Jennan tried to calm them, tried to explain they would soon be safe and cool if they could be still and endure the heat. Undisciplined by their terror

and torment, they

him arm became

tried to strike out at

despite the close quarters.

One

flailing

entangled in the leads to his power pack and the

damage was quickly done.

A

connection,

weakened by

heat and the dead weight of the arm, broke.

For all the power at her disposal, Helva was helpless. She watched as Jennan fought for his breath, as he turned his head beseechingly toward her, and died. Only the iron conditioning of her training prevented Helva from swinging around and plunging back into the cleansing heart of the exploding sun.

made rendezvous with ently

transferred

her

Numbly

she

the refugee convoy. She obedi-

burned,

heat-prostrated

pas-

sengers to the assigned transport. "I will retain the

body

of

my

scout and proceed to

the nearest base for burial," she informed Central dully.

"You will be provided escort," was the reply. "I have no need of escort." "Escort is provided, XH-834," she was told curtly. The shock of hearing Jennan's initial severed from her call

number

cut off her half-formed protest. Stunned,

she waited by the transport until her screens showed

WHO

THE SHIP

SANG

105

the arrival of two other slim brain ships.

proceeded homeward "834?

The

ship

who

at

The cortege

unfunereal speeds.

sings?*'

have no more songs." "Your scout was Jennan." "I do not wish to communicate." "I

"I'm 422." "Silvia?" "Silvia died a long time ago.

MS," the ship rejoined

I'm 422, Currently

"AH-640

curtly.

is

our other

friend, but Henry's not listening in. Just as

wouldn't understand

it if

you wanted

well— he

to turn rogue.

But I'd stop him if he tried to deter you." "Rogue?" The term snapped Helva out of her apathy.

power for years. 732 went rogue twenty

"Sure. You're young. You've got Skip. Others

have done

it.

years ago after she lost her scout on a mission to that

white dwarf. Hasn't been seen since." "I never heard about rogues." ""As

it's

exactly the thing we're conditioned against,

you sure wouldn't hear about 422 said. "Break

conditioning?"

it

cried

in school,

Helva,

my

dear,"

anguished,

thinking longingly of the white, white furious hot heart of the sun she

had

just left.

"For you I don't think it would be hard at the moment," 422 said quietly, her voice devoid of her

"The stars are out there, winking." "Alone?" cried Helva from her heart.

earlier cynicism.

"Alone!" 422 confirmed bleakly.

Alone with all of space and time. Even the Horsehead Nebula would not be far enough away to daunt her. Alone with a hundred years to live with her memories and nothing nothing more. .

.

.

ANNE McCaffrey

loe

!

"Was Parsaea worth 422

"Parsaea?"

she asked 422

it?"

repeated,

softly.

"With

surprised.

his

We

were there, at Parsaea when we were were at and his son needed. Just as you Chloe. When you were needed. The crime is not knowing where need is and not being there." "But I need him. Who will supply my need?" said Helva bitterly ... father? Yes.

.

.

.

.

.

.

'

j

i

"834,"

422 after a day's silent speeding, "Central wishes your report. A replacement awaits your opt at Regulus Base. Change course accordsaid

ingly."

"A replacement?" That was certainl)^ not what she needed ... a reminder inadequately filling the void Jennan left. Why, her hull was barely cool of Chloe's heat. Atavistically, Helva wanted time to morn Jennan. "Oh, none of them are impossible

if

you're a

422 remarked philosophically. "And

ship,"

it

is

good just

what you need. The sooner the better." "You told them I wouldn't go rogue, didn't you?" Helva said. "The moment passed you even as it passed me after Parsaea, and before that, after Glen Arthur, and Betelgeuse."

"We're conditioned to go on, aren't we?

We

cant go

You were testing." "Had to. Orders. Not even Psych knows why

rogue.

a

rogue occurs. Central's very worried, and so, daughter, are your sister ships. I asked to be your escort. I

.

.

.

don't

want

to lose

you both."

In her emotional nadir, Helva could feel a flood of gratitude for Silvia's rough sympathy.

"We've

all

known

this grief, Helva. It's

no consola-

J

^

THE SHIP

WHO

SANG

107

but if we couldn't feel with our scouts, we'd only be machines wired for sound." Helva looked at Jennan's still form stretched before her in its shroud and heard the echo of his rich voice tion,

in the quiet cabin. "Silvia!

I

couldn't help him," she cried from her

soul.

"Yes, dear, I know," 422 murmured gently and then was quiet. The three ships sped on, wordless, to the great Central Worlds base at Regulus. Helva broke silence to acknowledge landing instructions and the officially

tendered regrets.

The three ships set down simultaneously at the wooded edge where Regulus' gigantic blue trees stood dead in the small Service cemetery. The entire Base complement approached with measured step and formed an aisle from Helva to the burial ground. The honor detail, out of step, walked slowly into her cabin. Reverently they placed the body of her dead love on the wheeled bier, sentinel over the sleeping

covered flag

honorably with the deep-blue, star-splashed of the Service. She watched as it was driven

slowly

it

down

the living aisle which closed in behind

the bier in last escort.

Then,

as

the

simple

words

of

interment

were

spoken, as the atmosphere planes dipped in tribute over the open grave, Helva found voice for her lonely farewell. Softly, barely audible at first, the strains of the ancient song of evening and requiem swelled to the

poignant measure until black space back the sound of the song the ship sang.

final

itself

echoed

I

WAS

SONYA DORMAN Sonya Dorman grew up and was educated in New England. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Cavalier, Galaxy, The Saturday Evening Post, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Redbook and Orbit. She raises and shows Akita dogs and has been a receptionist, a flamenco dancer and a riding instructor. Science fiction writers have often written of

mans might look

Such

to aliens.

stories

how

hu-

not only give us

imaginative glimpses of beings and societies unlike our

own, but species.

on our own was Miss Dow," we see humanity an alien who has become a woman;

also give us a different perspective

"When

In

I

from the viewpoint of this being's

a role most

transformation mirrors our

women have had

own

experience of

to play.

These hungry^ mother-haunted people come and find us living in what they like to call crystal palaces, though really we live in glass places, some of them highly ornamented and others plain as paper. They come first as explorers, and perhaps realize we are a race of one sex only, rather amorphous beings of proteide; and we, even baby I, are Protean also, being able to take various shapes at will. One sex, one brain lobe,

we

live in

more

or less glass bridges over the

humanoid chasm, eating, and playing other games

recreating, attending races like

108

most living creatures.

WHEN

I

Eventually, we're

WAS

all

MISS

dumped

DOW

109

and

into the cell banks

reproduced once more. After the explorers comes the colony of miners and scientists; the Warden and some of the other elders put on faces to greet them, agreeing to help with the mining of some ores, even giving diem a koota or two as they

up

become

interested in our racing dogs.

their places of

life,

pop up

They

set

their machines, bang-

we put on our faces, am old enough to learn

bang, chug-chug;

forms, smiles

and costumes.

to

shape

I

change

my

too.

The Warden

about time you made a change, yourself. Some of your friends are already working for these people, bringing home credits and says to me,

"It's

sulfas/'

My

Uncle (by the Warden's fourth conjunction) made himself over at the start, being one of the first to I

how it

could profit us. protest to the Warden, "I'm educated and trained

realize

as a scholar.

You always say

I

must remain deep

in

my

mathematics and other studies." My Uncle says, "You have to do it. There's only one way for us to get along with them," and he runs his fingers through his long blond hair. My Uncle's not an educated person, but highly placed politically, and while Captain Dow is around, my Uncle retains this

The captain is shipping out soon, then Uncle will find some other features, because he's already warned it's unseemly for him to be chasing particular shape.

around in the face of a girl after the half -bearded boys from the spaceships. I don't want to do this myself, wasting so much time, when the fourteen decimals even now are clicking on my mirrors. The Warden says, "We have a pattern from a female botanist, she ought to do for you. But before we put

DORM AN

110

into the pattern tank, you'll

have

SONY A you

approximate

to

another brain lobe. They have two." "I

know,"

I

say sulkily.

"Into the tank," the

mercy, and

I

am

his to

A

botanist.

Warden

A she.

says to

me

without

use as he believes proper.

spend four days in the tank absorbing the female Terran pattern. When I'm released, the Warden tells me, "Your job is waiting for you. We went to a lot of trouble to arrange it." He sounds brusque, but perhaps this is because he hasn't conjoined for a long time. The responsibilities of being Warden of Mines and Seeds come first, long before any social engagement. I run my fingers through my brunette curls and notice my Uncle is looking critically at me. "Haven't you made yourself rather old?" he asks. I

"Oh, he's all right," the Warden says. "Thirty-three badly matched to the Doctor, as I understand

isn't it."

Dr. Arnold Proctor, the colony's head biologist,

busy making radiograph pictures rays) of skeletal structures:

(

with his primitive

murger

birds, rodents,

is

x-

and

our pets and racers, the kootas. Dogs, to the Terrans, are fascinated by them. We breed them primarily speed and stamina, but some of them carry a gene for an inherited structural defect which cripples them, and they have to be destroyed before they are full grown. The Doctor is making a special study of kootas.

who

for

He

up from his chair when I enter the oflBce. "I'm Miss Dow, your new assistant," I say, hoping my long fingernails will stand up to the pressure of punchkeys on the computer, since I haven't had much gets

practice in retaining foreign shapes. I'm tain balance

still

in uncer-

between myself and Martha Dow, who

is

WHEN also myself.

nothing,

I

I

WAS

DOW

MISS

111

But one does not have two lobes

for

discover.

"Good morning. I'm glad you're

here," the Doctor

says.

He

is

a nice, pink

intelligent.

man

with

I'm pleased, as

doesn't joke

and wisecrack

silver hair, soft-spoken,

we work like so

along, to find he

many

of the Ter-

though I am sometimes whimsical, I like music and banquets as well as my studies. Though absorbed in his work. Dr. Proctor isn't rude to interrupters. A man of unusual balance, coming as he does from a culture which sends out scientific parties that are 90 percent of one sex, when their species provides them with two. At first meeting he is dedicated but agreeable, and I'm charmed. "Dr. Proctor," I ask him one morning, "is it possible for you to radiograph my koota? She's very fine, from the fastest stock available, and I'd like to breed her." "Yes, yes, of course," he promises with his quick, often absent smile. "By all means. You wish to breed only the best." It's typical of him to assume we're all rans,

as dedicated as he.

My

Uncle's not pleased. "There's nothing

wrong

with your koota," he says. "What do you want to x-ray her for? Suppose he finds something is wrong? You'll

be afraid

breed her, and she won't be replaced. Besides, your interest in her may make him to race or

suspicious."

"Suspicious of what?" so

I

I

ask,

ask him, "Suppose she's

my

Uncle won't say, bred and her pups are

but

cripples?"

The Warden says, "You're supposed to have your mind on your work, not on racing. The koota was just to amuse you when you were younger."

SONYA DORM AN I

lean

down and

112

stroke her head,

which

is

beautiful,

and she breathes a deep and gentle breath

in re-

sponse.

"Oh,

let

him

my

go,"

Uncle says wearily. He's

ting disgusted because they didn't intend for

get-

me

to

bury myself in a laboratory or a computer room without making more important contacts. But a scholar is bom with a certain temperament and has an introspective nature,

and

Warden,

replace the

as I'm destined eventually to

naturally

I

prefer the

life

of the

mind. "I

must

say,"

my

Uncle remarks, "you look the image

work

of a Terran female. Is the

interesting?"

"Oh, yes, fascinating," I reply, and he snorts at my since we both know it's dull and routine, and most of my time is spent working out the connections

lie,

between my two brain with some difficulty.

My

koota bitch

Afterward,

I

lobes,

which

still

present

me

subjected to a pelvic radiograph.

is

stand on

my

heels in the small, darkened

on the viewing screen. There he stands too, with his cheekbones emerald in the peculiar light, and his hair, which is silver in daycubicle, looking at the film

light, looks

phosphorescent.

I resist this. I

am

resisting

Doctor with the x-ray eyes who can examine my marrow with ease. He sees Martha's marrow, every this

perfect corpuscle of

You

can't

it.

imagine

how

transparent. There's no

comforting

need

it

is

to

be so

to pretend, adjust, ad-

We

vance, retreat or discuss the oddities of my planet. are looking at the x-ray film of my prized racer and

companion

determine the soundness of her hip joints, yet I suspect the doctor, platinum-green and tall as a tower, is piercing my reality with his educated to

WHEN gaze.

He

I

WAS MISS DOW

can see the blood flushing

don't need to do a thing but stand

my

crease of fat at

ton, the center of

up

waist won't distort

113

my

surfaces. I

straight so the

my

belly but-

it all.

"You see?" he says. I do see, looking at the film in this darkness where perfection or disaster may be viewed, and I'm twined in the paradox which confronts me here. The darker the room, the brighter the screen and the clearer the picture. Less light! and the truth becomes more evident. Either the koota is properly jointed and may be bred without danger of passing the gene on to her young, or she is not properly jointed, and cannot be used. Less light, more truth! And the Doctor is green sculpture— a little darker and he would be a bronze— but his natural color is

pink alabaster.

"You

points his says,

"A

wax

pencil at

certain

already evident.

may go some

Doctor

see," the

do try to see. He one hip joint on the film, and says,

and

I

amount of osteoarthritic build-up is The cranial rim is wearing down, she

lame. She'll certainly pass the defect on to

of her pups,

if

she's bred."

This koota has been

my

playmate and friend for a

long time. She retains a single form, that of koota, full of love and beautiful speed; she has been a source of pleasure and pride.

Dr. Proctor, of the pewter hair, will discuss the

anatomical defects of the koota in a gentle and

vated voice.

I

am

culti-

disturbed. There shouldn't be any

need to explain the truth, which is evident. Yet it seems that to comprehend the exposures, I require a special education. It's said that the more you have seen, the quicker you are to sort the eternal verities into one pile and the dismal illusions into another. How is it that sometimes the Doctor wears a head

SONYA DORMAN

114

which resembles that of a koota, with a splendid muzzle and noble brow? Suddenly, he gives a little laugh and points the end of the

wax

There,

it

my

pencil at

navel, announcing, "There.

essential that the belly button onto the

is

pelvis, or you'll

bear no children." Thoughts of

spring had occurred to me. But weren't

my

we

off-

discussing

The radiograph film is still clipped to the view screen, and upon it, spread-eagled, appears the racer?

bony Rorschach expressing doom.

of

my

koota bitch, her hip joints

wish the Doctor would put on the daylight.

I

come

to the conclusion that there's

much

truth

I

how

a limit to

can examine, and the more I submit to the conditions necessary for examining it, the more unhappy I become. I

Dr. Proctor

is

a

man

of such perfect integrity that

he continues to talk about bones and muscles until I'm ready to scream for merc)\ He has done something unusual and probably prohibited, but he's not aware of

it.

where

I it

mean

must be prohibited in his culture, seems they play on each other, but not wdth it

each other. I'm uneasv, fluctuating.

He

snaps two switches. Out goes the film and on goes the sun, making my eyes stream with grateful

although he's so adjusted to these contrasts he much as blink. Floating in the sunshine, IVe become opaque; he can't see anything but my surface tears,

doesn't so

tensions,

and

I

wonder what he does

A part of me seems to tilt,

or slide.

"There, there, oh dear. Miss

my and

back, rubbing

my

Dow," he

'Tou do want

only the best, don't you?" he asks. ritual of

says, patting

shoulder blades. His forearms

fingers extend gingerly.

compulsive

in his spare time.

I

to

begin within

counting the elements;

breed

me

it's all I

a

can

WHEN

WAS MISS DOW

I

115

keep communications open between my brain from eclipses; one goes dark, the other lights up like a new saloon, that one goes dark, do

to

lobes. I'm suffering

the other goes nova.

"There, there," the Doctor says, distressed because I'm quivering and trying to keep the connections

have never felt clogged before. They may have to put me back into the pattern tank. Profoundly disturbed, I lift my face, and he gives open;

me

I

Then I'm

balanced again, one lobe composing a concerto for virtix flute, the other one projecting, "Oh Arnie, oh Arnie." Yes, I'm okay for the shape I'm in. He's marking off my joints with his wax pencil (the marks of which can be easily erased from a

kiss.

the film surface ) yes,

it's

all right,

and

he's

mumbling,

"It's essential,

oh

essential."

he

Finally,

lonely here,"

says, "I

and

I say,

guess

"Oh

all

of us colonists are

yes, aren't we," before I

realize the enormity of the

Warden's manipulations, have to learn. Evidently the Warden triple-carded me through the Colony Punch Center as a Terran. I lie and say, "Oh yes, yes. Oh Arnie, put out

and what a

lot I

the light," for

we may find some more

"Not here," Arnie is

a

room

says,

and

truth.

of course he's right, this

for study, for cataloging obvious facts, not a

place for carnival. There are not

many

places for

discover with surprise. Having lived in glass life, I

as I

all

it,

I

my

expect everyone else to be as comfortable there

am. But

this isn't so.

same we find his quarters, after dark, to be comfortable and free of embarrassment. You wouldn't think a dedicated man of his age would be so vigorous, but I find out he spends his weekends at the recreation center hitting a ball with his hand. The ball bounces back off a wall and he hits it and hits it. Just the

SONYA DORMAN Though

he's given that

116

up now because we*re together

on weekends.

more than an old bachelor

"You're

he

like

me

de-

me. "Why are you an old bachelor?" I ask him. I do wonder why, if it's something not to be. He tries to explain it to me. "I'm not a young man. I

serves,"

tells

wouldn't make a good husband, I'm afraid. I like to work late, to be undisturbed. In my leisure time, I like

make wood

Sometimes I go to bed with up working all night. And then children. No. I'm lucky to be an old bachelor," he to

carvings.

the sun and sometimes I'm says.

Arnie carves kaku wood, which has a brilliant grain and is soft enough to permit easy carving. He's working on a figure of a murger bird, whittiing lengthwise

down

wood

the

wedge-shaped

so the grain, wavy, full of flowing,

lines, will

represent the feathers.

The

lamplight shines on his hair and the crinkle of his eyelids as he looks

down, and carves,

whittles, turns.

He's absorbed in what he doesn't see there, but he's projecting what he wants to see. It's the reverse of

what he must do

in the viewing room. I begin to suffer

a peculiar pain, located in the nerve cluster

my

between

lungs. He's not talking to me. He's not caressing

me. He's forgotten I'm here, and like a false projection, I'm beginning to fade. In another hour perhaps the film will become blank. If he doesn't see me, then

am I here? He's doing just what

my own

projects,

and

I I

do when busy with one of admire the intensity with

which he works: it's magnificent. Yes, Tm jealous of it, I burn with rage and jealousy, he has abandoned me to be Martha and I wish I were myself again, free in

WHEN

WAS MISS DOW

I

117

shape and single in mind. Not this sack of mud dinging to another. Yet he's teaching me that it's good to cling to another. I'm exhausted from strange disciplines. Perhaps he's tired too; I see that sometimes he kneads the muscles of his stomach with his hands, and closes his eyes.

The Warden

sits

me down on

one of

my

rare eve-

nings home, and talks angrily. "You're making a mistake," he says. "If the Doctor finds out what you are,

your job with the Colony. Besides, we never supposed you'd have a liaison with only one man. You were supposed to start with the Doctor, and go on

you'll lose

We

need every credit you can bring in. And by the way, you haven't done well on that score lately. Is he stingy?" "Of course he isn't." "But all you bring home in credits is your pay." I can think of no reply. It's true the Warden has a right to use me in whatever capacity v^ll serve us all best, as I will use others when I'm a Warden, but he and my Uncle spend half the credits from my job on from

there.

sulfadiazole, to

which they've become addicted.

"You've no sense of responsibility," the

Warden

says.

Perhaps he's coming close to time for conjunction again, and this makes him more concerned about my stability.

My

Uncle says, "Oh, he's young, leave him alone. As long as he turns over most of those pay credits to us. Though what he uses the remainder for, I'll never know." I use it for clothes at the Colony Exchange. Sometimes

Laugh

me

out for an evening, usually to the Tree Bar, where the space crews, too, like to

Amie

takes

SONYA DORMAN relax.

The bar

pretty,

118

the place to find joy babies; young,

is

planet-born

who work

girls

the Colony

at

Punch Center during the day and spend

their eve-

nings here competing for the attention of the Sitting here with Arnie,

I

officers.

can't distinguish a colonist's

daughter from one of my friends or relatives. They wouldn't know me, either. Once, at home, I try to talk with a few of these friends about my feelings. But I discover that whatever female patterns they've borrowed are superficial

none of them bother to grow an extra lobe, but merely tuck the Terran pattern into a corner of their own for handy reference. They are most of them on sulfas. Hard and shiny toys, they skip like pebbles

ones;

over the surface of the colonists'

lives.

Then they go home, revert to their own free forms, and enjoy their mathematics, colors, compositions and seedings.

"Why me?"

demand

I

of the

Warden. "Why two

Why me?"

lobes?

"We

you'd be more

he answers. "And )'ou're here, which you seldom are these days, you'd better revert to other shapes. Your particles may be damaged if you hold that female form too long." Oh, but you don't know, I want to tell him. You felt

efficient,"

while

don't

know

I'll

dead, you'll put

hold

me

it

forever.

If

I'm

into the cell banks,

damaged and

you'll

or

be

amazed, astonished, terrffied, to discover that I come all Martha. I can't be changed. "You little lump of protagon," my Uncle mumbles bitterly. "You'll never amount to anything, you'll never be a Warden. Have you done any of your own work out complete,

recently?" I

say, "Yes, I've

regrown them

done some

crystal divisions,

in nonestablished patterns."

My

and

Uncle's

WHEN

WAS

DOW

MISS

119

bad mood,

in a tissue

he

I

as he's kicking sulfa and his nerve addled. I'm wise to speak quietly to him, but grumbles.

is

still

"I can't understand why you like being a two-lobed pack of giggles. I couldn't wait to get out of it. And you were so dead against it to begin with." "Well, I have learned," I start to say, but can't explain what it is I'm still learning, and close my eyes. Part of it is that on the line between the darkness and the brightness it's easiest to float. I've never wanted to practice only easy things. My balance is damaged. I never had to balance. It's not a term or concept I understand even now, at home, in free form. Some impress of Martha's pattern lies on my own brain cells. I suspect it's permanent damage, which gives me joy. That's what I mean about not understanding it; I am taught to strive for perfection, how can I be pleased with this, which may be a catastrophe? Amie carves on a breadth of kaku wood, bringing out to the surface a seascape. Knots become clots of spray, a flaw becomes wind-blown spume. I want to be Martha. I'd like to go to the Laugh Tree with Arnie, for a good time, I'd like to learn to play cards

with him.

You

original

given she

what happens: Arnie is, in his way, like my self, and I hate that part of him, since I've up to be Martha. Martha makes him happy,

see

it

is

chocolate

to

his

appetite,

pillow

for

his

weariness. I

turn for

company

to

my

koota. She's the color of

out like an axe blade, her ribs spring up and back like wings, her eyes are large and clear as she returns my gaze. Yet she's beyond hope; in

morning, her chest

a

little

juts

time, she'll be lame; she can't race any more,

she must not mother a

litter.

I

turn to her and she

SONYA DORMAN

my

120

dreaming of speed and wind on the sandy beaches where she has run. "Wh\' don't you read some tapes?" Arnie suggests to me, because I'm restless and I disturb him. The koota Hes at my feet. I read tapes. Every evening in his quarters Arnie carves, I read tapes, the broken racer hes at my feet. I pass through Terran history this way. W^ien the clown tumbles into the tub, I laugh. Terran history is full of clowns and tubs; at first it seems that's all there is, but you learn to see beneath the comic costumes. \Vhile I float on that taut line, the horizon between light and dark, where it's so easy, I begin to sense what is under the costumes: staggering down the street dead drunk on a sunny afternoon with everyone laughing at you; hiding under the veranda because you made blood come out of Pa's face; kicking a man when he's in the gutter because you've been kicked and have to pass it on. Terrans have something called tragedy. It's what one of them called being a poet in the body of a cockroach. "Have you heard the rumor?" Arnie asks, putting down the whittling tool. "Have you heard that some of the personnel in Punch Center aren't really humans?" "Not really?" I ask, putting away the tape. We have no tragedy. In my species, family relationships are based only on related gene patterns; they are finally dumped into the family bank and a new relative is created from the old. It's one form of ancient history gazes back into

eyes,

itself, but it isn't tragic. The koota, her destroyed by a recessive gene, lies sleeping at my feet. Is this tragedy? But she is a single form, she can't regenerate a lost limb, or exfoliate brain tissue.

multiplying

utilit)'

She can only return affectionate one.

my

gaze with her steadfast and

WHEN "What human?" "The

I

WAS

are they, then?"

story

is

MISS I

DOW

121

ask Arnie. "If they're not

that the local life forms aren't as

we

on faces, like ours, to deal And some of them have filtered into per-

really see them. They've put

with

us.

sonnel."

were a virus. "But they must be harmless. No harm has

Filtered! I

say,

come

As

if I

to anyone."

"We

don't

know

that for a fact," Arnie replies.

"You look tired," I soothed, to be loved

say,

and he comes

me

to

to

be

in his flesh, his single form, his

search for the truth in the darkness of the viewing cubicle.

At present

he's

doing studies of murger

and extremely porous, which permits them to

Their spinal cavities are large, their

bone

is

birds.

air-filled

ovals,

soar to great heights.

The koota no longer beaches; she

lies at

The wall must be beyond

it

our

races

feet,

on the windblown

looking into the distance.

transparent to her eyes,

she sees clearly

how

the racers go,

long, bright curve of sand in the

feel that

I

morning

down

the

sun.

She

sighs, and lays her head down on her narrow, delicate paws. Arnie says, "I seem to be tired all the time," and kneads the muscles of his chest. He puts his head down on my breasts. "I don't think the food's agreeing with me lately."

"Do you "Suffer,"

suffer pains?" I ask curiously.

he

says,

with analgesics. No.

"what kind

of nonsense

I don't suffer.

I

is

that,

just don't feel

well."

absorbed in murger birds, kaku wood, he descends into the darks and rises up Hke a rocket across the horizon into the thin clarity above. While I He's

SONYA DORMAN

122

no longer dare to breathe, I'm afraid of disturbing ever) thing. I do not want anything. His head hes on my breast and I will not disturb him. "Oh. M)' God," Arnie says, and I know what it's come to, even before he begins to choke, and his float.

I

muscles leap although I hold him in my arms. I know his heart is choking on massive doses of blood; the brilliance fades from his eyes and they begin to go

dark while I tightly hold him. If he doesn't see me as he dies, will I be here? I can feel, under my fingers, how rapidly his skin cools. I must put him down, here with his carvings and his papers, and I must go home. But I lift Arnie in

my

arms, and call the koota,

It's

long after dark, and

I

who

carry

gets

him

up

rather

stiffly.

slowly, carefully,

home to what he called a crystal palace, where the Warden and my Uncle are teaching each other to play some space captain gave them seed crystals. They sit in a bloom

chess with a set

exchange for

light, sparkling, their

men,

in of

old brains bent over the chess-

open the door and carry Arnie in. First, my Uncle gives me just a glance, but then another glance, and a hard stare. "Is that the Doctor?" he asks. as I breathe

I put Arnie down and hold one of his cold hands. "Warden," I say, on my knees, on eye level wdth the chess board and its carved men. "Warden, can you put him in one of the banks?" The Warden turns to look at me, as hard as my

Uncle. "You've

two

become deranged,

trying to maintain

he says. "You cannot reconstitute or recreate a Terran by our methods, and you must know lobes,"

it."

"Over the edge, over the edge," my Uncle says, now a blond, six-foot, hearty male Terran, often at the

WHEN

I

WAS

DOW

MISS

123

Laugh Tree with one of the joy babies. He enjoys Hfe, his own or someone else's. I have too, I suppose.

Am

I

fading?

I

am,

really, just

one of Arnie's projecmind. I am not, really,

tions, a form on a screen in his Martha. Though I tried. "We can't have him here," the

better get

corpse

him out

of here.

Warden says. "You'd You couldn't explain a

if they came looking did something to him. It's

like that to the colonists,

for him. They'll think

my

next conjunction, do you want your to arrive in disgrace? The Uncles will drain his

nearly time for

nephew

we

bank."

The Warden

up and comes over to me. He takes hold of my dark curls and pulls me to my feet. It hurts my physical me, which is Martha, God knows, Amie, I'm Martha, it seems to me. "Take him back to his quarters," the Warden says to me. "And come back here immediately. I'll try to see you back to your own pattern, but it may be too late. In part, I blame myself. If you must know. So I will try." Yes, yes, I want to say to him; as I was, dedicated, free; turn me back into myself, I never wanted to be anyone else, and now I don't know if I am anyone at all. The light's gone from his eyes and he doesn't see gets

me. I pick him up and breathe the door out, and go back through the night to his quarters, where the lamp still burns. I'm going to leave him here, where he

belongs. Before

I

go,

I

pick

up

the small carving of the

murger bird and take it with me, home to my glass bridge where at the edge of the mirrors the decimals are still clicking perfectly, clicking out known facts; an octagon can be reduced, the planet turns at such a degree on its axis, to see the truth you must have light of some sort, but to see the light you must have dark-

SONYA DORMAN

124

some sort. I can no longer float on the horizon between the two because that horizon has disappeared. I've learned to descend, and to rise, and ness of

descend again. I'm able to revert without help to

my own

free form,

The sun comes up and it's bright. The night comes down and it's dark. I'm becoming somber, and a brilliant student. Even my Uncle says I'll be a good Warden, when the time to reabsorb the extra brain tissue.

comes.

The Warden goes to conjunction; from the cell banks a nephew is lifted out. The koota lies dreaming of races she has run in the wind. It

goes on, like the

life

is

of other creatures.

our

life,

and

it

THE POOD KIT Reed was born

REED

and educated at the She has worked as a television editor reporter and and was New England Newspaperwoman of the Year in both 1954 and 1958. Her stories have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Transatlantic Review, Ladies' Home Journal and The Magazine Kit

College of Notre

in

Dame

California

of Maryland.

& Science Fiction, as well as in the anthologies Orbit and Bad Moon Rising. Her novels include Armed Camps, Cry of the Daughter and Tiger Rag (all published of Fantasy

by Dutton), and a short-story collection, Mister Da V. and Other Stories (Berkley Books), was published in 1973. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and was the first American recipient of a five-year Hterary grant from the Abraham Woursell Foundation. She was a Visiting Professor of English at Wesleyan University in the spring of 1974.

"The Food Farm" contains some adolescence:

the overweight

girl,

familiar

images of

shielding herself from

others under a protective layer of fat; the distressed and

puzzled parents; the popular and worshiped male singer; the institution that houses those who do not meet their parents', and society's, expectations. These elements are

woven together

an imaginative fantasy that pieces of our own early lives and feelings.

skillfully

reflects

in

am, warden-in-charge, fattening them up for our leader, Tommy Fango; here I am laying on the

So here

I

125

KIT

REED

126

banana pudding and the milkshakes and the creamand-brandy cocktails, going about like a technician, gauging their effect on haunch and thigh when all the time it is I who love him, I who could have pleased him eternally if only life had broken differently. But I am scrawny now, I am swept like a leaf around corners, battered by the slightest wind. My elbows rattle against my ribs and I have to spend half the day in bed so a gram or two of what I eat will stay with me, for if I do not, the fats and creams will vanish, burned up in my own insatiable furnace, and what little flesh I have will melt away. Cruel as it may sound, I know where to place the blame. It

was vanity^ was not

that. It

simple soul; chairs

I

and

all

vanity,

my

vanity, for I

I

hate them most for have always been a

reconciled myself early to reenforced

and loose garments,

to the

marks. Instead of heeding them

I

would have been happy

it

to let

spattering of re-

plugged in, and I go at that, going

through life with my radio in my bodice, for while I never drew cries of admiration, no one ever blanched and turned away.

But they were vain and in their vanity my frail my pale, scrawny mother saw me not as an entity but as a reflection on themselves. I flush with shame to remember the excuses they made for me. "She takes after May's side of the family," my father would say, denying any responsibility. "It's only baby fat," my mother would say, jabbing her elbow into my father,

soft flank. "Nelly

is

big for her age."

my

Then she would

voluminous smock down to cover my knees. That was when they still consented to be seen with me. In that period they would stuff me with pies and roasts before we went anywhere, filling jerk furiously, pulling

THE FOOD FARM

me up I

so

had

I

127

would not gorge myself

in public.

and

to take thirds, fourths, fifths

so

Even so I was a

humiliation to them.

was too much

them and they stopped taking me out; they made no more attempts to explain. Instead they tried to think of ways to make me In time

I

for

look better; the doctors tried the fool's poor battery of pills; they tried to make me join a club. For a while

my

mother and

we would

did exercises;

sit on the smock. Then she would do the brisk one-two, one-two and I would

she in a black leotard,

floor,

make had had

I

a

few passes

at

my

I

in

toes.

my

But

I

had

to listen, I

plug in, and after I was plugged in, naturally I to find something to eat; Tommy might sing and I always ate when Tommy sang, and so I would leave her there on the floor, still going one-two, one-two. to

For a while after that they tried locking up the food. Then they began to cut into my meals. That was the crudest time. They would refuse me bread, they would plead and cry, plying me with lettuce and telling me it was all for my own good. My

own

good. Couldn't they hear

my

vitals crying out? I

I screamed, and when that failed I suffered in obedience until finally hunger drove me into the

fought, silent

streets. I

would

lie in

bed,

made brave by

the Monets

and Barry Arkin and the Philadons coming in over the radio, and Tommy (there was never enough; I heard him a hundred times a day and it was never enough; how bitter that seems now! ) I would hear them and then when my parents were asleep I would unplug and go out into the neighborhood. The first few nights I begged, throwing myself on the mercy of passers-by and then plunging into the bakery, bringing home .

everything

money

I

didn't eat right there in the shop. I got

quickly enough;

I didn't

even have

to ask. Per-

KIT

REED

128

was my desperate subverbal cry of hunger; I found I had only to approach and the money was mine. As soon as they saw me, people would whirl and bolt, hurling a purse or haps

it

my

was

wallet into

my

bulk, perhaps

path as

if

to slow

they would be gone before thanks. in

my

Once

was shot

at.

I

me

in

my

pursuit;

could even express

Once a stone lodged

my

itself

flesh.

At home pleas.

I

it

They

my

parents continued with their tears and

persisted with their skim milk

and

their

life I lived by night. In the was complaisant, dozing between snacks, feeding on the sounds which played in my ear, coming from the radio concealed in my dress. Then, when night fell, I unplugged; it gave a certain edge to things, knowing I would not plug in again until I was ready to eat. Some nights this only meant going to one of the caches in my room, bringing forth bottles and cartons and cans. On other nights I had to go into the streets, finding money where I could. Then I would lay in a new supply of cakes and rolls and baloney from the delicatessen and several cans of ready-made frosting and perhaps a flitch of bacon or some ham; I would toss in a basket of oranges to ward off scurvy and a carton of candy bars for quick energy. Once I had enough I would go back to my room, concealing food here and there, rearranging my nest of pillows and comforters. I would open the first pie or the first half-gallon of ice cream and then, as I began, I would

chops, ignorant of the

daytime

plug

I

in.

You had

to plug in; everybody that mattered was plugged in. It was our bond, our solace and our power, and it wasn't a matter of being distracted, or occupying time. The sound was what mattered, that and the fact that fat or thin, asleep or awake, you

THE FOOD FARM

129

were important when you plugged in, and you knew that through fire and flood and adversity, through contumely and hard times there was this single bond, this

common

or wretched

Tommy,

heritage; strong or weak, eternally gifted

and

ill-loved,

we were

all

plugged

in.

Tommy

Fango, the others paled to nothing next to him. Everybody heard him in those days; they played him two or three times an hour, but you never knew when it would be, so you were plugged in and listening hard every living moment; you ate, you slept, you drew breath for the moment when they would put on one of Tommy's records, you waited for his voice to fill the room. Cold cuts and cupcakes and game hens came and went during that period in my life, but one thing was constant: I always had a cream pie thawing and when they played the first

bars of

beautiful

"When

a

Widow" and Tommy's

voice

first

flexed and uncurled, I was ready, I would eat the cream pie during Tommy's midnight show. The whole world waited in those days; we waited through endless sunlight, through nights of drumbeats and monotony, we all waited for Tommy Fango's records, and we waited for that whole unbroken hour of Tommy, his midnight show. He came on live at midnight in those days; he sang, broadcasting from the Hotel Riverside, and that was beautiful, but more important, he talked, and while he was talking he made everything all right. Nobody was lonely when Tommy talked; he brought us all together on that midnight show, he talked and made us powerful, he talked and finally he sang. You have to imagine what it was like, me in the night, Tommy, the pie. In a while I would go to a place where I had to live on Tommy and only Tommy, to a time when hearing Tommy would bring back the pie, all the poor lost pies .

.

.

KIT

REED

130

Tommy*s records, his show, the pie that was perhaps the happiest period of my Hfe. I would sit and hsten and I would eat and eat and eat. So great was my bliss that it became torture to put away the food at daybreak; it grew harder and harder for me to hide .

the cartons and the cans

my

residue of

and the

.

.

bottles,

all

happiness. Perhaps a bit of bacon

the fell

an egg rolled under the bed perhaps I did become revels into the morning, or I

into the register; perhaps

and began

to smell. All right,

careless, continuing

may have been

my

thoughtless enough to leave a jelly roll

unfinished on the rug.

I

became aware

watching, lurking just outside

my

that they

were

door, plotting as I

ate.

In time they broke in on me, weeping and plead-

ing,

lamenting over every ice cream carton and crumb

of pie; then they threatened. Finally they restored the

food they had taken from to curtail

needed listen.

I

my

me

in the daytime, thinking

eating at night. Folly.

By

that time

I

I shut myself in with it and would not ignored their cries of hurt pride, their out-

it all,

wounded vanity, their puny little threats. Even if I had listened, I could not have forestalled what happened next. I was so happy that last day. There was a Smithfield ham, mine, and I remember a jar of cherry preserves, mine, and I remember bacon, pale and white on Italian bread. I remember sounds downstairs and before I could take warning, an assault, a company of pourings of

uniformed attendants, the sting of a hypodermic gun. Then the ten of them closed in and grappled me into a sling, or net, and heaving and straining, they bore me down the stairs. I'll never forgive you, I cried, as they bundled me into the ambulance. I'll never forgive you, I bellowed, as my mother in a last betrayal took away my radio, and I cried out one last time, as my father

THE FOOD FARM removed a hambone from my you.

And I never

weak,

breast:

I'll

never forgive

have.

painful to describe

It is

member

131

what happened

next.

I

re-

three days of horror and agony, of being too

finally, to

cry out or claw the walls.

Then

at last

was quiet and they moved me into a sunny, pastel, chintz-bedizened room. I remember that there were flowers on the dresser and someone watching me. "What are you in for?" she said. I

I

could barely speak for weakness. "Despair/'

"Hell with that," she said, chewing. "You're in for food."

"What

are

you eating?"

I tried to raise

"Chewing. Inside of the mouth.

my head.

It helps."

"I'm going to die."

"Everybody thinks that at first. I did." She tilted her head in an attitude of grace. "You know, this is a very exclusive school."

Her name was Ramona, and as I wept silently, she filled me in. This was a last resort for the few who could afford to send their children here. They prettied it up with a schedule of therapy, exercise, massage; we would wear dainty pink smocks and talk of art and theater; from time to time we would attend classes in elocution and hygiene. Our parents would say with pride that we were away at Faircrest, an elegant finishing school; we knew better— it was a prison and

we were

being starved. I never made," said Ramona, and I knew that her parents were to blame, even as mine "It's

a world

were. Her mother liked to take the children into hotels and casinos, wearing her thin daughters like a garland father followed the sun on his private yacht, with the pennants flying and his children on the

of jewels.

fantail,

Her

Hthe and tanned.

He would

pat his

flat,

tanned

KIT

and look

belly

at

REED

Ramona

132

in disgust.

When

was no

it

longer possible to hide her, he gave in to blind pride.

One

night they

came

launch and took her away.

in a

She had been here six months now, and had lost almost a hundred pounds. She must have been monumental in her prime; she was still huge. "We live from day to day," she said. "But you don't

know the worst." "My radio," I away my radio." "There I

is

spasm

said in a

a reason," she said.

was mumbling

in

my

of fear.

"They

throat, in a

call

"They took it

therapy."

minute

I

would

scream. "Wait." With ceremony, she pushed aside a picture

and touched a

tiny switch

and

then, like sweet

balm

my panic. Tommy's voice flowed into the room. When I was quiet she said, "You only hear him once

for

a day."

"No."

"But you can hear him any time you want hear him when you need him most."

we were

to.

You

few bars and so we shut up and listened, and after "When a Widow" was over we sat quietly for a moment, her resigned, me weeping, and then Ramona threw another switch and the Sound filtered into the room, and it was almost But

missing the

being plugged in. "Try not to think about

first

like

"I'll

it."

die."

you think about

you will die. You have to learn minute they will come with lunch," Ramona said and as The Screamers sang sweet background, she went on in a monotone: "A chop. One lousy chop with a piece of lettuce and maybe some gluten bread. I pretend it's a leg of lamb, that "If

to use

it

it

instead. In a

THE FOOD FARM

133

you eat very, very slowly and think about Tommy the whole time; then if you look at your picture of Tommy you can turn the lettuce into anything you want, Caesar salad or a whole smorgasbord, and if you say his name over and over you can pretend a ." whole bombe or torte if you want to and "I'm going to pretend a ham and kidney pie and a watermelon filled with chopped fruits and Tommy and I are in the Rainbow Room and we're going to finish up with Fudge Royale ..." I almost drowned in my own saliva; in the background I could almost hear Tommy, and I could hear Ramona saying, "Capon, Tommy would like capon, canard a I'orange, Napoleons, tomorrow we will save Tommy for lunch ." and I thought about and listen while we eat that, I thought about listening and imagining whole cream pies and I went on, ". lemon pie, rice pudding, a whole Edam cheese ... I think I'm going to works

if

.

.

.

.

.

.

live."

The matron came in the next morning at breakfast, and stood as she would every day, tapping red fingernails on one svelte hip, looking on in revulsion as we fell on the glass of orange juice and the hard-boiled egg. I was too weak to control myself; I heard a shrill sniveling sound and realized only from her expression that it was my own voice: "Please, just some bread, a stick of butter, anything,

you'd

let

I

could lick the dishes

if

me, only please don't leave me I can still see her sneer as she turned her like this,

please ..." back.

I felt Ramona's loyal hand on my shoulder. "There's always toothpaste, but don't use too much at once or

come and take it away from you." was too weak to rise and so she brought

they'll I

shared the tube and talked about

all

it

and we

the banquets

we

REED

KIT

134

had e\er known, and when we got tired of that, we talked about Tommy, and when that failed, Ramona went to the switch and we heard "When a Widow," and that helped for a while, and then we decided that tomorrow we would put off "When a Widow" until bedtime because then we would have something to look forward to all day. Then lunch came and we both wept. It

was not

just

begins to devour

hunger: after a while the stomach itself

and the few grams you

toss

it

mealtimes assuage it, so that in time the appetite itself begins to fail. After hunger comes depression. I lay there, still too weak to get about, and in my misery at

I

realized that they could bring

me

roast pork

and

watermelon and Boston cream pie without ceasing; they could gratify all my dreams and I would only weep helplessly, because I no longer had the strength to eat. Even then, when I thought I had reached rock bottom, I had not comprehended the worst. I noticed it first

in

Ramona. Watching her

at the mirror, I said,

in fear, "You're thinner."

She turned with

tears in her eyes. "Nelly, I'm not

the only one."

mv own arms and saw that she was one less fold of flesh above the elbow; there was one less wrinkle at the wrist. I turned my face to the wall and all Ramona's talk of food and Tommy did not comfort me. In desperation she turned on Tommy's voice, but as he sang I lay back and contemplated the melting of my own flesh. "If we stole a radio we could hear him again," I

was

looked around at right: there

Ramona said, tr\ing to soothe me. "We could him when he sings tonight."

Tommy came

to Faircrest

on a

visit

two davs

hear later,

for reasons that I could not then understand. All the

THE FOOD FARM

135

lumbered into the assembly hall to see him, ,thousands of pounds of agitated flesh. It was that morning that I discovered I could walk again, and I was on my feet, struggling into the pink tent in a fury to get to Tommy, when the matron intercepted me. "Not you, Nelly." "I have to get to Tommy. I have to hear him sing." "Next time, maybe." With a look of naked cruelty Other

girls

she added, "You're a disgrace. You're I

lunged, but

the bolt.

And

it

so

I

was too

late;

sat in the

still

too gross."

she had already shot

midst of

my

diminishing

body, suffering while every other girl in the place listened to him sing. I knew then that I had to act; I

would regain myself somehow, I would find food and regain my flesh and then I would go to Tommy. I would use force if I had to, but I would hear him sing. I raged through the room all that morning, hearing the shrieks of five hundred girls, the thunder of their feet, but even when I pressed myself against the wall could not hear Tommy's voice. Yet Ramona,

when

she

I

came back to the room, said It was some time before

the most interesting thing.

but in her generosity she played "When a Widow" while she regained herself, and then she spoke: "He came for something, Nelly. He came for something he didn't find." "Tell about what he was wearing. Tell what his throat did when he sang." "He looked at all the before pictures, Nelly. The matron was trying to make him look at the afters, but she could speak at

all,

he kept looking at the befores and shaking his head and then he found one and put it in his pocket and if he hadn't found it, he wasn't going to sing." I could feel my spine stiffen. "Ramona, you've got to help me. I must go to him."

KIT

REED

136

That night we staged a daring break. We clubbed the attendant when he brought dinner, and once we had him under the bed we ate all the chops and gluten bread on his cart and then we went down the corridor, lifting bolts, and when we were a hundred strong we locked the matron in her office and raided the dining hall, howling and eating everything we could find. I ate that night, how I ate, but even as I ate I was aware of a fatal lightness in my bones, a failure in capacity, and so they found me in the frozenfood locker, weeping over a chain of link sausage, inconsolable because I understood that they had spoiled it for me, they with their chops and their gluten bread; I could never eat as I once had, I would never be myself again. In my fury I went after the matron with a ham hock, and when I had them all at bay I took a loin of pork for sustenance and I broke out of that place. I had to get to Tommy before I got any thinner; I had to try. Outside the gate I stopped a car and hit the driver with the loin of pork and then I drove to the Hotel Riverside, where Tommy always stayed. I made my way up the fire stairs on little cat feet and when the valet went to his suite with one of his velveteen suits I followed, quick as a tigress, and the next moment I was inside. When all was quiet I tiptoed to his door and stepped inside. He was magnificent. He stood at the window, gaunt and beautiful; his blond hair fell to his waist and his shoulders shriveled under a heartbreaking doublebreasted pea-green velvet first; I

my

drank in

his

throat. In the

suit.

He

image and then,

did not see

me

at

delicately, cleared

second that he turned and saw me,

everything seemed possible. "It's you." His voice throbbed.

THE FOOD FARM

137

had to come." Our eyes fused and in that moment I beUeved that we two could meet, burning as a single, lambent flame, but in the next second his face had crumpled in "I

disappointment; he brought a picture from his pocket, a fingered, cracked photograph, and he looked from to

me and back

ling,

I

at the

you've fallen

"Maybe it's not would fail.

And

photograph, saying,

"My

it

dar-

off."

too late,"

I cried,

but

we

both knew

even though I ate for days, for five desperate, heroic weeks; I threw pies into the breech, fresh hams and whole sides of beef, but those sad days at the food farm, the starvation and the drugs have so upset my chemistry that it cannot be restored; no matter what I eat I fall off and I continue to fall off; my body is a haffway house for foods I can no longer assimilate. Tommy watches, and because he knows he almost had me, huge and round and beautiful. Tommy mourns. He eats less and less now. He eats like a bird and lately he has refused to sing; strangely, his records have begun to disappear. And so a whole nation waits. "I almost had her," he says, when they beg him to resume his midnight shows; he will not sing, he won't talk, but his hands describe the mountain of woman he has longed for all his Iffe. And so I have lost Tommy, and he has lost me, but I am doing my best to make it up to him. I own Faircrest now, and in the place where Ramona and I once suffered I use my skills on the girls Tommy wants me to cultivate. I can put twenty pounds on a girl in

fail I did,

a couple of weeks and

I

don't

mean

bloat, I

mean soHd fat. Ramona and I feed them up and once a week we weigh and I poke the upper arm with a

KIT

and

REED

138

be satisfied until the stick goes in and does not rebound because all resiliency is gone. Each week I bring out my best and Tommy shakes his head in misery because the best is not yet good enough, none of them are what I once was. But one day the time and the girl will be right— would that it were me— the time and the girl will be right and Tommy will sing again. In the meantime, the whole world waits; in the meantime, in a private wing well away from the others, I keep my special cases; the matron, who grows fatter as I watch her. And Mom. And Dad. special stick

I

will not

BABV«

YOU WERE GREAT KATE WILHELM Kate Wilhelm is the author of science fiction stories pubhshed in Orbit, Again Dangerous Visions, Quark and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her novels include The Killer Thing (Doubleday), Let the Fire Fall (Doubleday), Margaret and I (Little, Brown) and City of Cain (Little, Brown). She has also written two novels with sf author Ted Thomas, The Clone and Year of the Cloud (both published by Doubleday), and has published two short-story collections. The Downstairs Room (Doubleday) and The Mile-Long Spaceship (Berkley). Her short story "The Planners" won the Nebula Award in 1968, and she is

She and

is

married to

sf

Award

Nine (Harper & Row). author, editor and critic Damon Knight

the editor of Nebula

Stories

lives in Florida.

We

have all admired celebrities, who set our fashions and through whom we sometimes hve vicariously. Aime Beaumont, one of the characters in this story, is such a glamorous figure, exploited with the use of an electronic implant. The world we see in "Baby, You Were Great" is a world we shall have the ability to create, and is an extension of our

own

society.

John Lewisohn thought that if one more door slammed, or one more bell rang, or one more voice asked if he was all right, his head would explode. 139

KATE WILHELM

140

Leaving his laboratories, he walked through the carpeted hall to the elevator that slid wide to admit him noiselessly, was lowered, gently, two floors, where there were more carpeted halls. The door he shoved open bore a neat sign, auditioning studio. Inside he was waved on through the reception room by three girls who knew better than to speak to him unless he spoke first. They were surprised to see him; it was his first visit there in seven or eight months. The inner room where he stopped was darkened, at first glance appearing empty, revealing another occupant only after his eyes

John

had time

to adjust to the

sat in the chair next to

Herb

dim

lighting.

Javits, still with-

out speaking. Herb was wearing the helmet and gazing at a wide screen that was actually a one-way glass

panel permitting him to view the audition going on in the adjacent room. John lowered a second helmet to his head. It

fit

snugly and immediately

made

contact

with the eight prepared spots on his skull. As soon as he turned it on, the helmet itself was forgotten.

A

girl

had entered the other room. She was breath-

taldngly lovely, a long-legged honey blonde with slant-

green eyes and apricot skin. The room was furnished as a sitting room with two couches, some ing

end tables and a coffee table, all tasteful and lifeless, like an ad in a furniture-trade publication. The girl stopped at the doorway, and John felt her indecision heavily tempered with nervousness and fear. Outwardly she appeared poised and expectant, her smooth face betraying none of the emotions. She took a hesitant step toward the couch, and a wire showed trailing behind her. It was attached to her head. At the same time a second door opened. A young man ran inside, slamming the door behind him; chairs,

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

he looked wild and

frantic.

The

141

girl

registered sur-

mounting nervousness; she felt behind her for the door handle, found it and tried to open the door again. It was locked. John could hear nothing that was being said in the room; he only felt the girl's reaction to the unexpected interruption. The wild-eyed man was approaching her, his hands slashing through the air, his eyes darting glances all about them constantly. Suddenly he pounced on her and pulled her to him, kissing her face and neck roughly. She seemed paralyzed with fear for several seconds, then there was something else, a bland nothing kind of feeling that accompanied boredom sometimes, or too complete selfassurance. As the man's hands fastened on her blouse in the back and ripped it, she threw her arms about him, her face showing passion that was not felt anywhere in her mind or in her blood.

prise,

"Cut!"

Herb

Javits said quietly.

The man stepped back from

the

girl

and

left

her

without a word. She looked about blankly, her blouse torn, hanging about her hips, one shoulder strap gone. She was very beautiful. The audition manager entered, followed by a dresser with a gown that he

threw about her shoulders. She looked startled; waves of anger mounted to fury as she was drawn from the room, leaving it empty. The two watching men re-

moved

their helmets.

"Fourth one so far," Herb grunted. "Sixteen yesterday; twenty the day before ... all nothing." He gave

John a curious look. "What's got you your lab?" "Anne's had the phone

"What

all

it

this time,"

night and

now'i:^'

all

John

stirred out of

said. "She's

morning."

been on

KATE WILHELM

142

"Those damn sharks! I told you that was too much on top of the airplane crash last week. She can't take

much more "Hold

it

of

it."

a minute, Johnny,"

Herb

said. "Let's finish

off the next three girls and then talk."

He

pressed a

button on the arm of his chair and the room beyond the screen took their attention again.

This time the

girl

was

slightly less beautiful, shorter,

a dimply sort of brunette with laughing blue eyes

and

an upturned nose. John liked her. He adjusted his helmet and felt with her. She was excited; the audition always excited them. There was some fear and nervousness, not too much. Curious about how the audition would go, probably. The wild young man ran into the room, and her face paled. Nothing else changed. Her nervousness increased, not uncomfortably. When he grabbed her, the only emotion she registered was the nervousness. "Cut,"

The

Herb

said.

was brunette, with gorgeously elongated legs. She was very cool, a real professional. Her mobile face reflected the range of emotions to be next

girl

expected as the scene played through again, but nothing inside her was touched. She was a million miles

away from it all. The next one caught John with a slam. She entered the room slowly, looking about with curiosity, nervous, as they all were. She was younger than the other girls had been, less poised. She had pale-gold hair piled in an elaborate

mound

of

waves on top

head.

Her eyes were brown, her

When

the

to fear,

man

closed his eyes.

skin nicely tanned.

entered, her emotion

and then

to terror.

He was

John

the

of her

changed quickly know when he

didn't

girl, filled

with unspeak-

able terror; his heart pounded, adrenalin

pumped

into

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

143

he wanted to scream but could not. From the dim unreachable depths of his psyche there came something else, in waves, so mixed with terror that the two merged and became one emotion that pulsed and throbbed and demanded. With a jerk he opened his eyes and stared at the window. The girl had been thrown down to one of the couches, and the man was kneeling on the floor beside her, his hands playing his system;

over her bare body, his face pressed against her skin. "Cut!"

Herb

said.

His voice was shaken. "Hire her,"

he said. The man rose, glanced at the girl, sobbing now, and then quickly bent over and kissed her cheek. Her sobs increased. Her golden hair was down, framing her face; she looked like a child. John tore off the helmet. He was perspiring. Herb got up, turned on the lights in the room, and the window blanked out, blending with the wall, making it invisible. He didn't look at John. When he

wiped

his face, his

hand was shaking. He rammed

it

in

his pocket.

"When

did you start auditions like that?" John

asked, after a

few moments of silence. months ago. I told you about

"Couple of it. Hell, we had to, Johnny. That's the six-hundred-nineteenth girl we've tried out! Six hundred nineteen! All phonies but one! Dead from the neck up. Do you have any idea how long it was taking us to find that out? Hours for each one. Now it's a matter of minutes." John Lewisohn sighed. He knew. He had suggested it, actually, when he had said, "Find a basic anxiety situation for the test." He hadn't wanted to know what

Herb had come up

He

said,

with.

"Okay, but she's only a

her parents, legal rights, "We'll

fix it.

all

Don't worry.

kid.

What about

that?"

What about Anne?"

KATE WILHELM "She's called

me

five

144

times since yesterday.

sharks were too much. She wants

to see us,

The

both of

us,

this afternoon."

now!" "Nope. Kidding I'm not. She says no plug up if we don't show. She'll take pills and sleep until we get "You're kidding!

I

can't leave here

there."

"Good Lord! She wouldn't dare!" "I've booked seats. We take off at twelve thirtyfive." They stared at one another silently for another moment, then Herb shrugged. He was a short man, not heavy but solid. John was over six feet, muscular, with a temper that he knew he had to control. Others suspected that when he did let it go, there would be bodies lying around afterward, but he controlled

Once

it

had been

a physical act, an

it.

body was done so

eflFort

of

master that temper; now it automatically that he couldn't recall occasions when it even threatened to flare any more. "Look, Johnnv, when we see Anne, let me handle it. Right?" Herb said. "I'll make it short."

and

will to

"What

are you going to do?"

"Give her an earful.

going to start pulling slap her down so hard she'll

If she's

temperament on me, I'll bounce a week." He grinned happily. "She's had it all her way up to now. She knew there wasn't a replacement if she got bitchy. Let her try it now. Just let her try." Herb was pacing back and forth with quick, jerky steps.

John realized wdth a shock that he hated the stocky, red-faced man. The feeling was new, it was almost as if he could taste the hatred he felt, and the taste was unfamiliar and pleasant. Herb stopped pacing and stared at him for a moment. "Why'd she call you? Why does she want you

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

145

down, too? She knows you're not mixed up with this end of it." "She knows Tm a full partner, anyway," John said. "Yeah, but that's not grin.

"She thinks you're

it."

Herb's face twisted in a

still

hot for her, doesn't she?

She knows you tumbled once, in the beginning, when you were working on her, getting the gimmick working right." The grin reflected no humor then. "Is she right, Johnny, baby? Is that it?" "We made a deal," John said coldly. "You run your end, I run mine. She wants me along because she doesn't trust you, or believe anything you tell her any more. She wants a witness." "Yeah, Johnny. But you be sure you remember our agreement." Suddenly Herb laughed. "You know what it was like, Johnny, seeing you and her? Like a flame trying to snuggle up to an icicle." At three-thirty they were in Anne's suite in the Skyline Hotel in Grand Bahama. Herb had a reservation to fly back to New York on the six p.m. flight. Anne would not be off until four, so they made themselves comfortable in her rooms and waited. Herb turned her screen on, offered a helmet to John, who shook his head, and they both seated themselves. John watched the screen for several minutes; then he too put on a helmet.

looking at the waves far out at sea where they were long, green, undulating; then she brought her gaze in closer, to the blue-green and quick seas,

Anne was

where they stumbled on the sand bars, breaking into foam that looked solid enough to walk on. She was peaceful, swaying with the motion of the boat, the sun hot on her back, the fishing rod heavy in her hands. It was like being an indolent

and

finally in to

animal at peace with the world, at

home

in the world,

KATE WILHELM being one with

it.

146

down man in

After a few seconds she put

the rod and turned, looking at a

tall

smiling

swimming trunks. He held out his hand and she took it. They entered the cabin of the boat, where drinks were waiting. Her mood of serenity and happiness ended abruptly, to be replaced by shocked disbelief and a start of fear. "What the hell ...?*' John muttered, adjusting the audio. You seldom needed audio when Anne was on. ". Captain Brothers had to let them go. After all, ," the man was saying they've done nothing yet .

.

.

.

.

soberly.

why do you think they'll try to rob me?" "Who else is here with a million dollars' worth

"But

of

jewels?"

John turned

it

off

and said

to Herb, "You're a fool!

You can't get away with something like that!" Herb stood up and crossed the room to stand before a window wall that was open to the stretch of glistening blue ocean beyond the brilliant white beaches. 'Tou know what every woman wants? To own some-

He

thing worth stealing."

chuckled, a low throaty

sound that was without mirth. "Among other things, that is. They want to be roughed up once or twice, and forced to kneel Our new psychologist is pretty good, you know? Hasn't steered us wrong yet. Anne might kick some, but it'll go over great." "She won't stand for an actual robbery." Louder, emphasizing it, he added, "I won't stand for that." "We can dub it," Herb said. "That's all we need, Johnny, plant the idea, and then dub the rest." John stared at his back. He wanted to believe that. He needed to believe it. His voice showed no trace of emotion when he said, "It didn't start like this, Herb. What happened?" .

.

.

BABY,

Herb turned

YOU WERE GREAT

then. His face

147

was dark against the

glare of Hght behind him. "Okay, Johnny,

hke

it

didn't

Things accelerate, that's all. You thought of a gimmick, and the way we planned it, it sounded great, but it didn't last. We gave them the feeling of gambling, of learning to ski, of automobile racing, everything we could dream of, and it wasn't enough. How many times can you take the first ski jump of your life? After a while you want new thrills, you know? For you it's been great^ hasn't it? You bought yourself a shining new lab and pulled the cover over you and it. You bought yourself time and equipment, and when things didn't go right you could toss it out and start over, and nobody gave a damn. Think of what it's been like for me, kid! I gotta keep coming up with something new, something that'll give Anne a jolt and, through her, all those nice little people who aren't even alive unless they're plugged in. You think it's been easy? Anne was a green kid. For start

this.

her everything was

new and

exciting, but

it isn't

like

You better believe it is not like that now. You know what she told me last month? She's sick and tired of men. Our little hot-box Annie! Tired that now, boy.

men!" John crossed to him and pulled him around. "Why didn't you tell me?" "Why, Johnny? What would you have done that I didn't do? / looked harder for the right guy for her. What would you do for a new thrill for her? I worked for them, kid. Right from the start you said for me to leave you alone. Okay. I left you alone. You ever read any of the memos I sent? You initialed them, kiddo. Everything that's been done, we both signed. Don't of

me

any of that why-didn't-I-tell-you stuflF. It won't work!" His face was ugly red and a vein bulged give

KATE WILHELM

he had high blood preshe would die of a stroke during one of his flash

in his neck.

sure,

if

148

John wondered

if

rages.

John left him at the window. He had read the memos. Herb knew he had. Herb was right; all he had wanted was to be left alone. It had been his idea; after twelve years of work in a laboratory on prototypes he had shown his gimmick ... to Herb Javits. Herb was one of the biggest producers on television then; now he was the biggest producer in the world. The gimmick was fairly simple. A person fitted with .

.

.

electrodes in his brain could transmit his emotions,

be broadcast and picked up by the helmets to be felt by the audience. No words or thoughts went out, only basic emotions fear, love, anger, hatred That, tied in with a camera showing what the person saw, with a voice dubbed in, and you were the person having the experience, with one important difference, you could turn it off if it got to be too much. The "actor" couldn't. A simple gimmick. You didn't really need the camera and the soundtrack; many users never turned them on at all, but let their own imagination fill in to fit the emotional

which

in turn could

.

.

.

.

.

.

broadcast.

The helmets were not

sold, only rented after a short, easy fitting session. Rent of one dollar a month was

collected on the

and there were thirty-seven million subscribers. Herb had bought his own network after the second month when the demand for more hours barred him from regular television. From a one-hour weekly show it had gone to one hour nightly, and now it was on the air eight hours a day live, with another eight hours of taped first

of the month,

over

programing.

What had

started out as

a day in the life of anne

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

BEAUMONT was now

a

the

life in

149

life of

Anne Beau-

mont, and the audience was insatiable. Anne came in then, surrounded by the throng of hangers-on that mobbed her daily— hairdressers, masShe looked tired. She seurs, fitters, script men .

waved were

the

.

.

crowd out when she saw John and Herb

there. "Hello, John," she said, "Herb."

"Anne, baby, you're looking great!" Herb said. He took her in his arms and kissed her solidly. She stood still, her hands at her sides. She was tall, very slender, with wheat-colored hair and gray eyes. Her cheekbones were wide and high, her mouth firm and almost too large. Against her deep red-gold sun tan her teeth looked whiter than John

remembered them. Although to

be thought of

too firm and strong ever

as pretty, she

was a very beautiful

woman. After Herb released her, she turned to John, moment, and then extended a slim, sun-browned hand. It was cool and dry in his.

hesitated only a

"How have you been, John? It's been a long time." He was very glad she didn't kiss him or call him She smiled only slightly and gently removed her hand from his. He moved to the bar as she turned to Herb. "I'm through, Herb," she said. Her voice was too quiet. She accepted a whiskey sour from John, but kept her gaze on Herb. "What's the matter, honey? I was just watching you, baby. You were great today, like always. You've still darling.

got

it,

kid.

It's

coming through

"What about ." mind .

this

like always."

robbery? You must be out of your

.

swear to you I don't know a thing about it. Laughton must have been telling you the straight goods on that. You know we "Yeah, that. Listen,

Anne baby,

I

KATE WILHELM

150

week you just have a good comes time, remember? That over too, baby. When you have a good time and relax, thirty-seven milhon people are enjoying life and relaxing. That's good. They can't be stimulated all the time. They like the ." Wordlessly John held out a glass, Scotch variety and water. Herb took it without looking. Anne was watching him coldly. Suddenly she laughed. It was a cynical, bitter sound. "You're not a damn fool, Herb. Don't try to act like one." She sipped agreed that the

rest of this

.

.

her drink again, continuing to stare at him over the

rim of the

glass. "I

am warning

\'ou, if

anyone shows

here to rob me, I'm going to treat him like a real burglar.

I

bought a gun

after today's broadcast,

how to shoot when I was only nine or know how. I'll kill him, Herb, whoever it is."

learned still

and

I

ten. I

"Baby," Herb started, but she cut him short.

"And

this

is

my

do

that,

last

week. As of Saturday, I'm

through."

"You

him

can't

Anne," Herb

said.

closely, searching for a sign of

thing;

John watched

weakness, any-

he saw nothing. Herb exuded confidence. "Look

around, Anne, at this room, your clothes, everything .

.

.

You

are the richest

the time of your ." thing .

life,

woman

in the world,

having

able to go anywhere, do any-

.

"While the whole world watches "So what? It doesn't stop you, does .

to pace, his steps jerky

and quick.

." .

Herb started "You knew that

it?"

when you

signed the contract. You're a rare girl, Anne, beautiful, emotional, intelligent. Think of all those women who've got nothing but you. If you quit them, what do they do? Die? They might, you know. For the first

time in their

living.

lives

You're giving

they are able to feel like thev're

them what no one ever did be-

BABY, fore,

YOU WERE GREAT

what was only hinted

old days. Suddenly they

at in

151

books and films

know what

it

in the

feels like to face

excitement, to experience love, to feel contented and peaceful. Think of them, Anne, empty, with nothing in their lives but you,

what you're able

Thirty-seven million drabs, Anne, thing but

boredom and

them

What do

life.

who

them.

to give

never

frustration until

any-

felt

you gave

they have? Work, kids,

bills.

You've given them the world, baby! Without you they wouldn't even want to live any more." She wasn't listening. Almost dreamily she said, "I

my

talked to ingless.

insisting

meancountless times by

lawyers. Herb, and the contract

You've already broken

on adding

to learn a lot of

it

is

to the original agreement.

new

agreed

I

them

things, so they could feel

with me. I did. My God! I've climbed mountains, hunted lions, learned to ski and water ski, but now that you want me to die a little bit each week airplane crash, not bad, just enough to terrify me. .

.

.

was having sharks brought in when I was skiing that did it. Herb. You see, you will kill me. It will happen, and you won't be able to top it, Herb. Not ever." There was a hard, waiting silence following her words. "No!" John shouted, soundlessly, the words not leaving his mouth. He was looking at Herb He had stopped pacing when she started to talk. Something

Then the

sharks. I really

do think

it

something not face went completely

flicked across his face, surprise, fear,

readily identifiable.

Then

his

blank and he raised his glass and finished the Scotch

and water, replacing the glass on the bar. When he turned again, he was smiling with disbelief. "What's really bugging you, Anne? There have been plants before. You knew about them. Those lions didn't just happen by, you know. And the avalanche

KATE WILHELM

152

needed a nudge from someone. You know that. What else is bugging you?" "I'm in love, Herb. I want out now before you manage to kill me." Herb waved that aside impatiently.

"Have you ever watched your own show, Anne?** She shook her head. "I thought not. So you wouldn't

know about the expansion that took place last month, after we planted that new transmitter in your head. Johnny boy here's been busy, Anne. You know these scientist

types,

never

satisfied,

always

changing. Where's the camera, Anne?

know where

it

is

improving,

Do you

ever

any more? Have you even seen a

camera in the past couple of weeks, or a recorder of any sort? You have not, and you won't again. You're on now, honey." His voice was quite low, amused almost. "In fact the only time you aren't on is when you're sleeping. I know you're in love; I know who he is; I know how he makes you feel; I even know how much money he makes per week. I should know, Anne baby. I pay him." He had come closer to her with each word, finishing with his face only inches from hers. He didn't have a chance to duck the flashing slap that jerked his head around, and before either of them realized it, he had hit her back. Anne fell back to the chair, too stunned to speak for a moment. The silence grew, became something ugly and heavy, as if words were being born and dying without utterance because they were too brutal for the human spirit to bear. There was a spot of blood on Herb's mouth where her diamond ring had cut him. He touched it and looked at his finger. "It's all being taped now, honey, even this," he said. He returned to the bar, turning his back on her. There was a large red print on her cheek. Her gray

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

153

eyes had turned black with rage; she didn't take her

gaze from him. "Honey, relax," Herb said after a moment, his voice soft and easy again. "It won't make any difference to you, in what you do, or anything like that. You know we can't use most of the stuff, but it gives the editors a bigger variety to pick from.

It

was getting to the point stuff was going on after

where most of the interesting you were off. Like buying the gun. That's great stuff there, baby. You weren't blanketing a single thing, and it'll all come through like pure gold." He finished mixing his drink, tasted it, and then swallowed most of it. "How many women have to go out and buy a gun to protect themselves? Think of them all, feeling that gun, feeling the things you felt when you picked it

up, looked at

it

/* .

.

"How

long have you been tuning in all the time?*' she asked. John felt a stirring along his spine, a tingle of excitement. He knew what was going out over the miniature transmitter, the rising crests of emotion she was feeling. Only a trace of them showed on her

smooth

face, but the raging interior

torment was being

recorded faithfully. Her quiet voice and quiet body were lies; only the tapes never lied.

storm behind her quietude. He put his glass down and went to her, kneeling by the chair, taking her hand in both of his. "Anne, please,

Herb

felt it too, a

don't be that angry with me. I material.

When Johnny

we knew we

was desperate

for

new

got this last wrinkle out, and

could record around the clock, we had to wouldn't have been any good if you had

try it, and it known. That's no way to test anything. You knew we ." were planting the transmitter .

"How long?" "Not quite a month."

.

KATE WILHELM "And

154

men? He is transmit... to make love to me?

Stuart? He's one of your

ting also?

You hired him

to

Is that right?"

Herb nodded. She pulled her hand free and averted her face, not willing to see him anv longer. He got up then and went to the window. "But what difference does it make?" he shouted. "If I introduced the two of you at a part)% you wouldn't think anything of it. What difference if I did it this way? I knew you'd like each other. He's bright, like you, likes the same sort of things you do. Comes from a poor family, like yours ." Everything said you'd get along "Oh, yes," she said almost absently. "We get along." She was feeling in her hair, her fingers searching for .

.

.

.

.

the scars. "It's

him

as

"I'll

all if

healed by now," John

find

a surgeon," she

fingers white "It's

a

said.

She looked at

she had forgotten he was there.

new

on her

glass.

said,

standing up, her

"A brain surgeon

process," John said slowly. "It

." .

.

would be

." dangerous to go in after them She looked at him for a long time. "Dangerous?** He nodded. ." "You could take it back out .

.

.

.

He remembered the beginning, how he had quieted her fear of the electrodes and the wires. Her fear was that of a child for the

unknown and

Time and again he had proven

the unknowable.

to her that she

could

he wouldn't lie to her. He hadn't lied to There was the same trust in her e\ es, the same unshakable faith. She would believe him. She

trust him, that

her, then.

would accept without question whatever he said. Herb had called him an icicle, but that was wrong. An icicle would have melted in her fires. More like a

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

155

shaped by centuries of civilization, layer by layer he had been formed until he had forgotten how stalactite,

how

to bend, forgotten

to find release for the stirrings

he felt somewhere in the hollow, rigid core of himself. She had tried and, frustrated, she had turned from him, hurt, but unable not to trust one she had loved. Now she waited. He could free her, and lose her again, this time irrevocably. Or he could hold her as long as she lived.

Her

were shadowed with fear and had given to her. Slowly he shook his

lovely gray eyes

the trust that he

head. "I can't," "I see,"

he

said.

"No one

can."

she murmured, the black

filling

her eyes.

wouldn't I? Then you'd have a lovely sequence, wouldn't you, Herb?" She swung around, away from John. "You'd have to fake the story line, of "I'd die,

course, but

you are

good

so

that.

at

An

accident,

emergency brain surgery needed, everything

I

feel

going out to the poor little drabs who never will have brain surgery done. It's very good," she said admiringly. Her eyes were very black. "In fact, anything I do from now on, you'll use, won't you? If I kill you, that will simply be material for your editors to pick over. Trial, prison, very dramatic

hand,

if I kill

myself

.

.

.

On

the other

." .

.

hard weight seemed to be filling him. Herb laughed. "The story line will be something like this," he said. "Anne has fallen in love with a stranger, deeply, sincerely in love with him. Everyone knows how deep that love is; they've all felt She finds him raping a child, a it, too, you know.

John

felt chilled; a cold,

lovely Httle girl in her early teens. Stuart they're

through.

He

loves

the

little

tells

her

nymph. In a

KATE WILHELM passion she

kills herself.

You

156

are broadcasting a real

storm of passion, right now, aren't you, honey? Never mind, when I run through this scene, I'll find out." She hurled her glass at him, ice cubes and orange sections leaving a trail across the room. Herb ducked, grinning. "That's awfully good, baby. Corny, but after all, they can't get too

much

corn, can they? They'll love

shock of losing you.

after they get over the

And

it,

they

you know. They always do. Wonder if it's true about what happens to someone experiencing a violent death?" Anne's teeth bit down on her lip, and

will get over

it,

slowly she sat

down

Herb even more If you give

again, her eyes closed tight.

watched her for a moment, then said, cheerfully, "We've got the kid already. them a death, you've got to give them a new life. Finish one with a bang. Start one with a bang. We'll

name

the kid Cindy, a real Cinderella story after that.

Thev'll love her, too."

Anne opened her

eyes, black dulled

tight with tension that tract

and become

John

taut.

felt his

He wondered

able to stand the tape she

was

excitement swept him and he all,

feel

it all,

now; she was so

own if

muscles con-

he would be

A wave of knew he would play it

transmitting.

the incredibly contained rage, fear, the

them

and all. Watching Anne, he wished she would break then, with him there. She didn't. She stood up stiflfly, her back rigid, a muscle hard and ridged in her jaw. Her voice was flat when she said, "Stuart is due in half an hour. I have to dress." She left them without looking back. Herb winked at John and motioned toward the horror of giving a death to

finally,

door.

he

anguish.

"Want

said,

to gloat over,

He would know them

to take

me

to the plane, kid?" In the

"Stick close to her for a couple

cab

of days,

BABY,

YOU WERE GREAT

157

Johnny. There might be an even bigger reaction later when she really understands just how hooked she is."

He

chuckled again. "By God!

trusts you,

It's

a

good thing she

Johnny, boy!"

As they waited in the chrome-and-marble terminal for the liner to unload its passengers, John said, "Do you think she'll be any good after this?" "She can't help herself. She's too life oriented to deliberately choose to die. She's like a jungle inside, raw, wild, untouched by that smooth layer of civilization she shows on the outside. It's a thin layer, kid, real thin. She'll fight to stay alive. She'll

become more

wary, more alert to danger, more excited and exciting She'll really go to pieces when he touches her tonight. She's primed real good. Might even have to .

.

.

do some

editing, tone

very happy. reacts.

A

it

down

a

little."

"He touches her where

she

real wild one. She's one; the

His voice was lives,

new

and she

kid's one;

They're few and far apart, Johnny. It's up to us to find them. God knows we're going to need all of them we can get." His face became thoughtful and Stuart

.

.

.

withdrawn. "You know, that really wasn't such a bad idea of mine about rape and the kid. Who ever dreamed we'd get that kind of a reaction from her? ." He had to run to With the right sort of buildup .

.

catch his plane.

John hurried back to the hotel, to be near Anne if she needed him. He hoped she would leave him alone. His fingers shook as he turned on his screen; suddenly he had a clear memory of the child who had wept, and he hoped Stuart would hurt Anne just a little. The tremor in his fingers increased; Stuart was on from six until twelve, and he already had missed almost an hour of the show. He adjusted the helmet and sank

KATE WILHELM

158

back into a deep chair. He left the audio off, letting his own words form, letting his own thoughts fill in the spaces.

champagne She was speaking, talking to him, John, calling him by name. He felt a tingle start somewhere deep inside him, and his glance was lowered to rest on her tanned hand in his, sending electricity through him. Her hand trembled when he ran his fingers up her palm, to her wrist where a blue vein throbbed. The slight throb became a pounding that grew, and when he looked again into her eyes, they were dark and very deep. They danced and he felt her body against his, yielding, pleading. The room darkened and she was an outline against the window, her gown floating dowTi about her. The darkness grew denser, or he closed his eyes, and this time when her body pressed against his, there was nothing between them, and the pounding was ever^^where.

Anne was

leaning toward him, sparkling

raised to her

lips,

her eyes large and

soft.

In the deep chair, with the helmet on his head, John's hands clenched, opened, clenched, again again.

and

AMD/OR MR.MORRISOM CAROL EMSHWILLER Carol Emshwiller attended

art school at the University of

Michigan and received a Fulbright Scholarship to study France. Her stories have appeared in science-fiction magazines and in the anthologies Bad Moon Rising, Orbit and Showcase, among others. She is also the author of Joy in Our Cause (Harper & Row). She is married to artist and film maker Ed Emshwiller. in

The

sexes are differentiated

This difi^erence attitudes that

by

their reproductive organs.

is ultimately the basis of all the codes and have governed the behavior of the sexes

toward each other, ignoring the much greater number of similarities between them. These restrictive attitudes may also be at the root of our ambivalent and sometimes hateful feelings about our own genitals. When "Sex and/ or Mr. Morrison" first appeared in Harlan Ellison's anthology Dangerous Visions, Ms. Emshwiller wrote in her afterword to the story: "It vvould be nice to live in a society where the genitals were really considered Beauty. is

obscene."

I

can

set

stairs,

enough

my

It

seems

to

me

any other way of seeing

clock by Mr. Morrison's step

not that he

is

that

accurate,

but accurate

for me. Eight thirty thereabouts.

runs fast anyway.)

down and

I set it

upon the

(My

clock

Each day he comes clumping

back ten minutes, or eight minutes 159

CAROL EMSHWILLER

160

suppose I could just as well do it without him, but it seems a shame to waste all that heavy treading and those puffs and sighs of expending energy on only getting downstairs, so I have timed my life to this morning beat. Funereal tempo, one might well call it, but it is funereal onlv because Mr. Morrior seven.

I

son

and therefore slow. Actually

is

man

fat

men

he's a very nice

He

always smiles. I wait downstairs, sometimes looking up and sometimes holding my alarm clock. I smile a smile I hope is not as wistful as his. Mr. Morrison's moonface has something of the Mona Lisa to it. Certainly he must

have

as

go.

secrets.

"I'm setting

my

clock by you, Mr. M/'

"Heh, heh my, my," grunt, breath. "Well," ." heave the stomach to the right, "I hope "Oh, you're on time enough for me." "Heh, heh. Oh. Oh, yes." The weight of the world is certainly upon him or perhaps he's crushed and flattened by a hundred miles of air. How many pounds per square inch weighing him down? He hasn't the inner energy to push back. All his muscles spread like jelly under his skin. .

.

.

.

.

"No time to talk," he says. (He never has time.) Off he goes. I like him and his clipped little Boston accent, but I know he's too proud ever to be friendly. Proud is the wrong word, so is shy. Well, I'll leave it at that. He turns back, pouting, and then winks at me as a kind of softening of it. Perhaps it's just a twitch. He thinks, if he thinks of me at all: What can she say and what can I say talking to her? What can she possibly know that I don't know already? And so he duckwalks, knock-kneed, out the door. And now the day begins. There are really quite a number of things that I can

SEX AND/OR MR. MORRISON do.

I

161

often spend time in the park. Sometimes

I

rent a

boat there and row myself about and feed the ducks. I love museums and there are all those free art galleries and there's window-shopping, and if I'm very careful with my budget, now and then I can squeeze in a matinee. But I don't like to be out after Mr. Morrison

comes back. while he's

I

off at

His room

is

wonder work?

if

directly over

room locked

he keeps

his

mine and

he's too big to

be

The house groans with him and settles when he steps out of bed. The floor creaks under his feet. Even the walls rustle and the wallpaper clicks its a quiet man.

dried paste. But don't think I'm complaining of the

keep track of him this way. Sometimes, here I ape his movements, bed to dresser, step, clump, dresser to closet and back again. I imagine him there, flat-footed. Imagine him. Just imagine those great legs sliding into pants, their godlike width (for no mere man could have legs like that), those Thorlegs into pants holes wide as caves. Imagine those two landscapes, sparsely fuzzed in a faint, wheat-colored brush finding their way blindly into the waist-wide skirt-things of brown wool that are still damp from yesterday. Ooo. Ugh. Up go the suspenders. I think I can hear him breathe from here. I can comb my hair three times to his once and I can be out and waiting at the bottom step by the time he opens his door. "I'm setting my clock by you, Mr. M." ." and he shuts "No time. No time. I'm off. Well the front door so gently one would think he is afraid noise. I

underneath,

.

.

own fat hands. And so, as I said, the day begins.

of his

The question today )

:

Who is

is

he

(

and perhaps

really,

it is

the question for

one of the Normals or one

of

.

CAROL EMSHWILLER the Others?

It's

with someone so

162

not going to be so easy to find out fat. I

wonder

if

I'm up to

it.

Still,

I'm

and I'm nimble yet. All that rowing and all that walking up and down and then, recently, I've spent all night huddled under a bush in Central Park and twice I've crawled out on the fire escape and climbed to the roof and back again (but I haven't seen much and I can't be sure of the willing to go to certain lengths

Others yet )

no keyhole, though I could open the door a crack and maybe wedge my shoe there. (It's double A.) He might not notice it. Or there's the bed to get under. While it's true that I am thin and small, almost childsized, one might say, still it will not be so easy, but then neither has it been easy to look for lovers on the I

don't think the closet will

do because

there's

roof.

Sometimes

I

wish

I

were a

little,

dull-green or a yellowish brown.

I

fast-moving lizard,

could scamper in

stomach when he opened the door and he'd never see me, though his eyes are as quick as his feet are clumsy. Still I would be quicker. I would skitter oflF behind the bookcase or back of his desk or maybe even just lie very still in a comer, for surely he does not see the floor so much. His room is no larger than mine and his presence must fill it, or rather his stomach fills it and his giant legs. He sees the ceiling and the pictures on the wall, the surfaces of night table, desk and bureau, but the floor and the lower halves of everything would be safe for me. No, I won't even have to regret not being a lizard, except for getting in. But if he doesn't lock his room it will be no problem and I can spend all day scouting out my hiding places. I'd best take a snack with me too if I decide this is the

under

his

SEX AND/OR MR. MORRISON night for

it.

No

things Hke cheese

crackers

and

fig

and no

163

nuts, but noiseless

newtons.

seems to me, now that I think about it, that I was rather saving Mr. Morrison for last, as a child saves the frosting of the cake to eat after the cake part is finished. But I see that I have been foolish, for, since he is really one of the most likely prospects, he should have been first. And so today the day begins with a gathering of supplies and an exploratory trip upstairs. The room is cluttered. There is no bookcase but there are books and magazines by the hundreds. I check behind the piles. I check the closet, full of drooping, giant suit coats I can easily hide in. Just see how the shoulders extend over the ordinary hangers. I check under the bed and the kneehole of the desk. I squat under the night table. I nestle among the dirty shirts and socks tossed in the corner. Oh, it's better than Central Park for hiding places. I decide to use them It

aU.

There's something very nice about being here, for

do

like

I

Mr. Morrison. Even just his size is enough to be everybody's father. His room comforting;

he's big

reassures with

all his

father-sized things in

it.

I

feel

and young here. few fig newtons while I sit on his shoes in the closet, soft, wide shoes with their edges all collapsed and all of them shaped more like cushions than shoes. Then I take a nap in the dirts' shirts. It looks like fifteen or so but there are only seven and some socks. After that I hunch down in the kneehole of the desk, hugging my knees, and I wait and I begin to have doubts. That pendulous stomach, I can already tell, will be larger than all my expectations. There will

lazy I

eat a

CAROL EMSHWILLER

164

be nothing it cannot overshadow or conceal, so \vh\' do I crouch here clicking my fingernails against the desk leg when I might be out feeding pigeons? Leave now, I tell myself. Are you actually going to spend the whole da\', and maybe night too, cramped and confined in here? Yet haven't I done it plentv' of times latelv and always for nothing too? \\^h\- not one more trv? For Mr. Morrison is surelv the most promising of all. His eves, the way the fat pushes up his cheeks under them, look almost Chinese. His nose is Roman and in an ordinary face it would be overpowering, but here it is lost. Dwarfed. "Save me,'* certainly

cries the nose, "I'm sinking."

I

would

try,

but

I

will

have other more important duties, after Mr. Morrison comes back. Dut}- it is, too, for the good of all and I

do mean

but do not think that

all,

prejudiced in

I

am

the least bit

this.

You see, I did go to a matinee a few weeks ago. I saw the Royal Ballet dance The Rite of Spring and it Well, what would you think occurred to me then if you saw them wearing their suits that were supposed to be bare skin? Naked suits, I called them. And .

all

.

.

those well-dressed, cultured people clapping at

them, accepting even though they knew^ perfectly w^ell like a sort of Emperor's New Clothes in .

.

.

Now

two sexes and every one of us w one of those and certainl\% presumabh' that is, knows something of the other. But then that may be where I have been making mv mistake. You'd think wh\', just what I did start thinking: there that must be Others among us. But it is not out of fear or disgust that I am looking for them. I am open and unprejudiced. You can see that I am when I say that I've never seen ( and doesn't this seem strange?) the very organs of my own conreverse.

.

just think, there are only

.

.

SEX AND/OR MR. MORRISON

165

ception, neither my father nor my mother. Goodness knows what they were and what this might make me? So I wait here, tapping my toes inside my shppers and chewing hangnails off my fingers. I contemplate

the unvarnished underside of the desk top. I ridge it with my thumbnail. I eat more cookies and think

should make his bed for him or not but decide not to. I suck my arm until it is red in the soft crook opposite the elbow. Time jerks ahead as slowly

whether

I

as a school clock,

and

crawl across the floor and sti-etch out behind the books and magazines. I read first paragraphs of dozens of them. What with the dust back here and lying in the shirts and socks beI

I'm getting a certain smell and a sort of gray, animal fuzz that makes me feel safer, as though I fore,

belong in this room and could actually creep around and not be noticed by Mr. Morrison at all except perhaps for a pat on the head as I pass really did

him.

Thump

.

.

.

miss his step.

pause.

Clump

The house

.

.

.

pause.

One

shouts his presence.

can't

The

wake up squeaking and lean toward the stairway. The banister slides away from his slippery hamhands. The wallpaper seems suddenly full of bugs. He must think: Well, this time she isn't peeking out of her doorway at me. A relief. I can concentrate completely on climbing up. Lift the legs against the pressure. Ooo. Ump. Pause and seem to be looking at the picture on the wall. floors

I

skitter

It's

back under the desk.

strange that the

first

newspaper on the desk and next to

my

nose,

put his with his knees

thing he does sit

down

regular walls,

is

to

furnaces of knees,

exuding heat and dampness, throwing off a miasma delicately scented of wet wool and sweat. What a

CAROL EMSHWILLER

166

wide roundness thev have to them, those knees. Mother's breasts pressing toward me. Probably as soft. Why can't I put my cheek against them? Observe how he can sit so still with no toe tapping, no rhythmic tensing of the thigh. He's not like the rest of us, but

could a

How

man

had

One

crete.

He

do

little

things?

the circumstantial evidence piles up, but that

I've

is all

like this

so far

thing, just

and one

time for something con-

it is

fact, is all I

need.

reads and adjusts the clothing at his crotch and

reads again. garlic

and

I

He

breathes out winds of sausages and

remember

that

take out m\- cheese and eat rabbit bites.

little

I

make

a

it

it

is

after

supper and

I

as slowly as possible in

little

piece last a half an

hour.

he goes down the hall to the bathroom and I back under the shirts and socks and stretch my legs. What if he undresses like m\" grandmother did, under a nightgown? under, for him, some giant, At

last

shift

double-bed-sized thing?

But he doesn't. He hangs his coat on the little hanger and his tie on the closet doorknob. I receive his shirt and have to make myself another spy hole. Then off with the shoes, then socks. Off come the huge pants with slow, unseeing effort (he stares out the window). He begins on his vellowed undershorts, scratching himself first behind and starting earthquakes across his buttocks. Where could he have bought those elephantine undershorts? In what store were thev once folded on the shelf? In what factory did women sit at sewing machines and put out one after another after another of those otherw^orldlv items? Mars? Venus? Saturn,

more

likely.

Or

perhaps, instead, a tiny place, some

)

SEX AND/OR MR. MORRISON

moon

167

upon the where Mr. Morrison can take the stairs three at a time and jump the fences (for surely he's not particularly old) and dance all night with skin

of Jupiter with less air per square inch

and

girls his

He

less gravity,

own

squints his oriental eyes toward the ceiling light

and takes floor.

size.

I

the shorts, lets

off

them

see Alleghenies of thigh

loosely to the

fall

and buttock.

How

does a man like that stand naked even before a smallsized mirror? I lose myself, hypnotized. Impossible to tell

the color of his skin, just as

How

with blue-gray

it is

and red and sometimes a bruised elephant-gray. His eyes must be used to multiplicities like this, and to plethoras, coneyes or the ocean.

tan, pink, olive

glomerations, to an opulence of

self, to

an intemperant

exuberance, to the universal, the astronomical. I

find myself completely tamed. I lie in

of shirts not

even shivering.

He

My

my

cocoon

eyes do not take in

beyond

my

comprehension. Can you imagine how thin my wrists must seem to him? He is thinking ( if he thinks of me at all ) he thinks: She might be from another world. How alien her ankles and leg bones. How her eyes do stand out. How green her complexion in the shadows at the edges of her face. (For I must admit that perhaps I may be as far along the scale at my end of humanity as he is at his. Suddenly I feel like singing. My breath purrs in my throat in hymns as slow as Mr. Morrison himself would sing. Can this be love, I wonder? My first real love? But haven't I always been passionately interested in people? Or rather in those who caught my

what they

see.

is

utterly

,

fancy? But

isn't this

have come to

me

feeling different?

this late in life?

(

Can

La,

la,

love really lee la

from

CAROL EMSHWILLER

whom

blessings flow.

all

)

I

shut

my

168

eyes and duck

my

head into the shirts. I grin into the dirty socks. Can you imagine Jiini making love to me! Well below his abstracted, ceilingward gazes, I crawl on elbows and knees back behind the old books.

A

safer place to shake out the silliness.

Why, I'm

old

be (had I ever married) my )oungest son of all. Yet if he were a son of mine, how he would have grown beyond me. I see that I cannot ever follow him ( as with all sons ) I must love him as a mouse might love the hand that cleans the cage, and as uncomprehendingly too, for surely I see only a part of him here. I sense more. I sense deeper largenesses.

enough

for

him

to

.

I

sense

excesses

of

Rounded afterimages

bulk linger

I

cannot

on

my

yet

imagine.

eyeballs.

There

seems to be a mysterious darkness in the corners of

room and his shadow covers, at the same time, the window on one wall and the mirror on the other.

the

Certainly he is like an iceberg, se\'en-eighths submerged. But now he has turned toward me. I peep from the books holding a magazine over my head as one does

when it rains. I do so more to shield myself from too much of him all at once than to hide. And there we are, confronting each other e)^e to eye.

We

stare and he cannot seem to comprehend me any more than I can comprehend him, and yet usually his mind is ahead of mine, jumping away on unfinished plirases. His eyes are not even wistful and not yet

surprised.

Here

is

me

his belly button, that

the eye of

bland skv ing

But

like a

God

is

another story.

at last. It nestles in a vast,

sun on the curve of the universe flasha benign, fat wink. The

a wink of heat,

stomach eye accepts and understands. The stomach eye recognizes me and looks at me as I've always

SEX AND/OR MR. MORRISON wished

to

be looked

at.

(Yea, though

169

walk through

I

shadow of death. ) I see you now. But I see him now. The skin hangs in loose, plastic folds just there, and there is a little copper-colored

the valley of the

circle

like

a fifty-cent piece

made

There's a hole in the center and

out of pennies.

corroded green at the edges. This must be a kind of "naked suit" and whatever the sex organs may be, they are hidden behind this hot, pocked and pitted imitation skin. look

I

as

up

it is

into those girlish eyes of his

blank as though the eyeballs were

and they are

all

whites, as

blank as having no sex at all, eggs without yolks, like being built like a boy-doll with a round hole for the water to empty out.

God, I think. I am not religious but I think, My God, and then I stand up and somehow, in a limping run, I get out of there and down the stairs as though I fly. I slam the door of my room and slide in under my bed. The most obvious of hiding places, but after I am there I can't bear to move out. I lie and listen for his thunder on the stairs, the roar of his feet splintering the steps, his I

hand

know what

I'll

tossing

away

the banister.

say. "I accept. I accept,"

I'll

say. "I

whatever you are." watching the hanging edges of

will love, I love already, I

lie listening,

my

bedspread in the absolute silence of the house. Can all in such a strange quietness? Must I doubt even my own existence? "Goodness knows," I'll say, "if I'm normal myself." ( How is one to know such things when ever)'thing is hidden?) "Tell all of them that we accept. Tell them it's the naked suits that are ugly. Your dingles, your dangles, wrinkles, ruts, bumps and humps, we accept whatever there is. Your loops, strings, worms, buttons, there be anyone here at

figs,

cherries, flower petals,

your

soft little toad-shapes,

CAROL EMSHWILLER

170

warty and greenish, your cat's tongues or rat's tails, your oysters, one-eyed between your legs, garter snakes,

snails,

we

accept.

We

think

the

truth

is

lovable."

But what a long silence this is. Where is he? for he must ( mustn't he? ) come after me for what I saw. But where has he gone? Perhaps he thinks I've locked my door, but

I

haven't.

I

haven't.

Why doesn't he come?

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND

MORE SLOW URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in California. She is the daughter of anthropologist A. L. Kroeber and writer Theodora Kroeber. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe

where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and earned her M.A. at Columbia University. She also studied in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship. She is the author of stories which have appeared in Again Dangerous Visions, New Dimensions, Orbit and Galaxy. Among her novels are The Wizard of Earthsea (Parnassus Press), winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1969, The Tombs of Atuan (Atheneum), a Newbery Honor Book in 1972, and The Farthest Shore (Atheneum), all part of a trilogy. The Farthest Shore received the National Book Award for Children's Literature in 1973. Her novel College,

The Left Hand of Darkness (Walker) won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and her novella, "The Word for World is Forest," won the Hugo Award in 1973. Her most recent novels are The Lathe of Heaven (Scribner's) and The Dispossessed (Harper & Row). She is married to historian and professor Charles Le Guin and lives in Oregon. "Vaster

Than Empires and More Slow" deals with exand the unusual members of an

trasensory perception

These perceptual powers highlight the interpersonal relationships of the crew as they travel interstellar expedition.

to a fascinating alien planet.

171

URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

You're looking at a clock.

It

172

has hands, and figures

The hands move. You can't tell if they move at the same rate, or if one moves faster than the other. What does than mean? There is a rela-

arranged in a

circle.

between the hands and the circle of figures, and the name of this relationship is on the tip of your tongue; the hands are something-or-other, at the figures. Or is it the figures that ... at the hands? What does at mean? They are figures— your vocabulary hasn't shrunk at all— and of course you can count, one two three four etc., but the trouble is you can't tell which one is one. Each one is one: itself. Where do you begin? Each one being one, there is no, what's the word, I had it just now, something-ship, between the ones. There is no between. There is only here and here, one and one. There is no there. Maya has fallen. All is here now one. But if all is now and all here and one all, there is no end. It did not begin so it cannot end. Oh God, here now One get me out of this— tionship

.

.

.

I'm trying to describe the sensations of the average

person in this for is

NAFAL

flight. It

can be

some, whose time-sense

much worse than

restful, like

For others it a drug-haze freeing the mind from the

And

is

acute.

few the experience is and relation leading them directly to intuition of the eternal. But the mystic is a rare bird, and the nearest most people get to God in paradoxical time is by inarticulate and

tyranny of hours.

for a

certainly mystical; the collapse of time

anguished prayer for release. They used to drug people for the long jumps, but stopped the practice when they realized its effects. What happens to a drugged, or ill, or wounded person during near-lightspeed flight is, of course, indeterminable.

A

jump

no difference

of ten lightyears should logically

make The

to a victim of measles or gunshot.

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW body ages only a few minutes; why patient

carried

out

of

the

ship

a

is

173

the measles

leper,

and the

wounded man

a corpse? Nobody knows, except perhaps the body, which keeps the logic of the flesh, and knows it has lain festering, bleeding, or drugged into mindlessness for ten years. Many imbeciles having been produced, the Fisher King Effect was established as fact, and they stopped using drugs and transport-

ing the

ill,

the

damaged and

be in common health take

it

to

go

You have

to

NAFAL, and you have

to

the pregnant.

straight.

But you don't have to be sane. It was only during the earliest decades of the League that Earthmen, perhaps trying to bolster their battered collective ego, sent out ships on enormously long voyages, beyond the pale, over the stars and far away. They were seeking for worlds that had not, like all the known worlds, been settled or seeded by the Founders on Hain, truly alien worlds; and all the crews of these Extreme Surveys were of unsound mind. Who else would go out to collect information that wouldn't be received for four, or five, or six centuries? Received by whom? This was before the invention of the instantaneous communicator; they would be isolated both in space and time. No sane person who has experienced time-slippage of even a few decades between near worlds would volunteer for a round trip of a half millennium. The Surveyors were escapists; misfits; nuts.

them climbed aboard the ferry at Smeming Port on Pesm, and made varyingly inept attempts to

Ten

get to

of

know one

another during the three da)

s

the

Gum. Gum is a Low order of Baby or Pet. There

ferry took getting to their ship,

Cetian nickname, on the

was one

Low

Cetian on the team, one Hairy Cetian,

URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

174

two Hainishmen, one Beldene, and five Terrans; the ship was Cetian-built, but chartered by the Government of Earth. Her motley crew came aboard wrigghng through the coupHng-tube one by one like apprehensive spermatozoa fertilizing the universe. The ferr\- left, and the navigator put Gum under way. She flittered for some hours on the edge of space a few hundred million miles from Pesm, and then abruptly vanished.

When,

after ten hours twenty-nine minutes, or

256

Gum reappeared in normal space, supposed to be in the vicinity of Star KG-E-96651. Sure enough, there was the cheerful gold pinhead of she was

years,

Somewhere within a 400-million-kilometer sphere there was also a greenish planet. World 4470, as charted by a Cetian Mapmaker long ago. The ship now had to find the planet. This was not quite so easy the

star.

might sound, given a 400-million-kilometer haystack. And Gum couldn't bat about in planetary space as

it

at

near lightspeed;

if

she did, she and Star

KG-E-

96651 and World 4470 might all end up going bang. She had to creep, using rocket propulsion, at a few hundred thousand miles an hour. The Mathematician/ Navigator, Asnanifoil,

knew

prett}'

well where the

planet ought to be, and thought the\' might raise

within ten E-davs. Meanwhile the

Survey team got to "I can't

know one

another

members still

stand him," said Porlock, the

it

of the

better.

Hard

Scientist

(chemistry, plus physics, astronomy, geology, etc.),

and little blobs of spittle appeared on his mustache. "The man is insane. I can't imagine why he was passed as

Survey team, unless this is a deliberate experiment in noncompatibilit}', planned by the Authorit}', wdth us as guinea pigs." "We generally use hamsters and Hainish gholes," fit

to join a

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW said

Mannon, the

Soft

Scientist

175

(psychology, plus

psychiatry, anthropology, ecology, etc.), politely; he

was one of the Hainishmen. "Instead of guinea Well, you know, Mr. Osden is really a very rare

pigs.

case.

cured case of Render's Syndrome— a variety of infantile autism which was thought to be incurable. The great Terran analyst Hammergeld reasoned that the cause of the autistic condition in this case is a supernormal empathic capacity, and developed an appropriate treatment. Mr. In

fact,

he's

the

first

fully

Osden

is the first patient to undergo that treatment, in he lived with Dr. Hammergeld until he was eighteen. The therapy was completely successful."

fact

"Successful?"

"Why,

yes.

He

certainly

is

not autistic."

"No, he's intolerable!" "Well, you see," said

Mannon, gazing mildly

at the

saliva-flecks on Porlock's mustache, "the normal defen-

between strangers meetinglet's say you and Mr. Osden just for example— is something you're scarcely aware of; habit, manners, inattention get you past it; you've learned to ignore it, to the point where you might even deny it exists. However, Mr. Osden, being an empath, feels it. Feels his feelings, and yours, and is hard put to say which is which. Let's say that there's a normal element of hostility towards any stranger in your emotional reaction to him when you meet him, plus a spontaneous dislike of his looks, or clothes, or handshake— it doesn't matter what. He feels that dislike. As his autistic defense has been unlearned, he resorts to an aggressivedefense mechanism, a response in kind to the aggression which you have unwittingly projected onto him." Mannon went on for quite a long time.

sive-aggressive reaction

URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

man

"Nothing gives a

the

176

right

be such a

to

bastard," Porlock said.

"He

can't tune us out?" asked Harfex, the Biologist,

another Hainishman.

Hke hearing," said Olleroo, Assistant Hard Scientist, stooping over to paint her toenails with fluorescent lacquer. "No eyelids on your ears. No Off switch on empathy. He hears our feelings whether he wants to or not." "Does he know what we're thinkingF' asked Eskwana, the Engineer, looking around at the others "It's

in real dread.

"No," Porlock snapped. "Empathy's not telepathy! Nobody's got telepathy." "Yet," said Mannon, with his little smile. "J^^t before I left Hain there was a most interesting report in from one of the recently rediscovered worlds, a hilfer

named Rocannon teachable

reporting what appears to be a

telepathic

technique

mutated hominid race; HILF Bulletin, but—"

I

among

He went

The

had while Mannon went on on.

others

he did not seem to mind, nor even

much of what they said. "Then why does he hate

us?" Eskwana "Nobody hates you, Ander honev,"

daubing Eskwana's

left

a

only saw a synopsis in the

learned that they could talk talking;

existent

to miss

asked. said

Olleroo,

thumbnail with fluorescent

The engineer flushed and smiled vaguely. "He acts as if he hated us," said Haito, the Coordinator. She was a delicate-looldng woman of pure

pink.

Asian descent, with a surprising voice, husky, deep

and soft, like a young bullfrog. "Why, if he suffers from our hostility, does he increase it by constant attacks and insults? I can't say I think much of Dr.

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW Hammergeld's preferable

cure, really,

177

Mannon; autism might be

." .

.

She stopped. Osden had come into the main cabin. He looked flayed. His skin was unnaturally white and thin, showing the channels of his blood like a faded roadmap in red and blue. His Adam's apple, the muscles that circled his mouth, the bones and ligaments of his wrists and hands, all stood out distinctly as if displayed for an anatomy lesson. His hair was pale rust, like long-dried blood. He had eyebrows and lashes, but they were visible only in certain lights; what one saw was the bones of the eyesockets, the veining of the lids, and the colorless eyes. They were not red eyes, for he was not really an albino, but they were not blue or gray; colors had canceled out in Osden's eyes, leaving a cold waterlike clarity, infinitely penetrable. He never looked directly at one. His face lacked expression, like an anatomical drawing, or a

skinned face.

he said in a high, harsh tenor, "that even autistic withdrawal might be preferable to the smog of cheap secondhand emotions with which you people surround me. What are you sweating hate for now, "I agree,"

Porlock? Can't stand the sight of

some autoeroticism the way

me? Go

you were doing

practice

last night,

improves your vibes. —Who the devil moved my tapes, here? Don't touch my things, any of you. I won't have it." "Osden," said Asnanifoil, the Hairy Cetian, in his large slow voice, "why are you such a bastard?" Ander Eskwana cowered down and put his hands in it

front of his face. Contention frightened him. Olleroo looked up with a vacant yet eager expression, the

eternal spectator.

"Why

shouldn't I be?" said Osden.

He was

not

URSULA

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178

looking at Asnanifoil, and was keeping physically as far avva\- from all of them as he could in the crowded cabin.

"None

of

)'0u

constitute,

in yourselves,

any

changing my behavior." Asnanifoil shrugged; Cetians are seldom willing to state the obvious. Harfex, a reserved and patient man, said, "The reason is that we shall be spending several years together. Life will be better for all of us if—" "Can't you understand that I don't give a damn for all of you?" Osden said, took up his microtapes and went out. Eskwana had suddenly gone to sleep. Asnanifoil was drawing slipstreams in the air with his finger and muttering the Ritual Primes. "You cannot explain his presence on the team except as a plot on the part of the Terran Authorit)^ I saw reason for

my

almost at once. This mission is meant to fail," Harfex whispered to the Coordinator, glancing over his shoulder. Porlock was fumbling with his flybutton; there were tears in his eyes. I did tell you they were all crazy, but you thought I was exaggerating. All the same, they were not unjustified. Extreme Surveyors expected to find their fellow team members intelligent, well-trained, unstable and personally symthis

They had

work together in close quarters and nasty places, and could expect one another's paranoias, depressions, manias, phobias and compulsions to be mild enough to admit of good personal relationships, at least most of the time. Osden might be intelligent, but his training was sketchy and his personalit)" was disastrous. He had been sent only on account of his singular gift, the power of empathy: pathetic.

to

properly speaking, of wdde-range bioempathic recepHis talent wasn't species-specific; he could pick

tivity.

up emotion could

share

or sentience from anything that lust

with

a

white

rat,

pain

felt.

with

He a

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

179

squashed cockroach, and phototropy with a moth. On an aUen world, the Authority had decided, it would be useful to know if anything nearby is sentient, and if so, what its feelings toward you are. Osden's title was a new one: he was the team's Sensor. "What is emotion, Osden?" Haito Tomiko asked him one day in the main cabin, trying to make some rapport with him for once. "What is it, exactly, that you pick up with your empathic sensitivity?" "Muck," the man answered in his high, exasperated voice. "The psychic excreta of the animal kingdom. I wade through your feces." "I was trying," she said, "to learn some facts." She thought her tone was admirably calm. "You weren't after facts. You were trying to get at me. With some fear, some curiosity, and a great deal of distaste. The way you might poke a dead dog, to see the maggots crawl. Will you understand once and for all that I don't want to be got at, that I want to be left alone?" His skin was mottled with red and violet, his voice had risen. "Go roll in your own dung, you yellow bitch!" he shouted at her silence. "Calm down," she said, still quietly, but she left him at once and went to her cabin. Of course he had been right about her motives; her question had been largely a pretext, a mere effort to interest him. But what harm in that? Did not that effort imply respect for the other? At the moment of asking the question she had felt at most a slight distrust of him; she had mostly felt sorry for him, the poor arrogant venomous bastard, Mr. No-Skin as Olleroo called him. What did he expect, the

way he

acted? Love?

guess he can't stand anybody feeling sorry for him," said Olleroo, lying on the lower bunk, gilding "I

her nipples.

URSULA

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180

form any human relationship. All his Hammergeld did was turn an autism inside

"Then he Dr.

out

K.

can't

." .

.

"Tomiko, you don't mind if Harfex comes in for a while tonight, do you?" "Can't you go to his cabin? I'm sick of always having to sit in Main with that damned peeled "Poor

frot," said Olleroo.

turnip."

"You do hate him, don't you? I guess he feels that. But I slept with Harfex last night too, and Asnanifoil might get jealous, since they share the cabin. It would be nicer here." "Service them both," Tomiko said with the coarseness of offended modesty.

Her Terran

subculture, the

East Asian, was a puritanical one; she had been brought up chaste. "I only like one a night," Olleroo replied with innocent serenity. Beldene, the

Garden

Planet,

had never

discovered chastity, or the wheel.

"Try Osden, then," Tomiko said. Her personal instability was seldom so plain as now: a profound selfdistrust manifesting itself as destructivism. She had volunteered for this job because there was, in all probability, no use in doing it. The little Beldene looked up, paintbrush in hand, eyes wide. "Tomiko, that was a dirty thing to say."

"Why?" "It would be vile! I'm not attracted to Osden!" "I didn't know it mattered to vou," Tomiko

said

though she did know. She got some papers together and left the cabin, remarking, "I hope you and Harfex or whoever it is finish by last bell; I'm indifferently,

tired."

Olleroo was crying, tears dripping on her

little

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW gilded nipples. She wept easily.

181

Tomiko had not wept

was ten years old. It was not a happy ship; but it took a turn for the better when Asnanifoil and his computer raised World 4470. There it lay, a dark-green jewel, like truth at the bottom of a gravity well. As they watched the jade disk grow, a sense of mutuality grew among them. since she

Osden's selfishness, his accurate cruelty, served

now

to

draw the others together. "Perhaps," Mannon said, "he was sent as a beating-gron. What Terrans call a scapegoat. Perhaps his influence will

no one, so careful were they

to

be good after all." And be kind to one another,

disagreed.

There were no lights on nightside, on the continents none of the lines and clots made by animals who build. "No men," Harfex murmured. "Of course not," snapped Osden, who had a viewscreen to himself, and his head inside a polythene bag. He claimed that the plastic cut down on the empathic noise he received from the others. "We're two lightcenturies past the limit of the Hainish Expansion, and outside that there are no men. Anywhere. You don't think Creation would have made the same

They came

into

orbit.

hideous mistake twice?"

No one was paying him much

heed; they were

looking with affection at that jade immensity below them, where there was Hfe, but not human life. They were misfits among men, and what they saw there was

Even Osden did not look usual; he was frowning.

not desolation, but peace. quite so expressionless as

on the sea; air reconnaissance; landing. A plain of something like grass, thick, green, bowing stalks, surrounded the ship, brushed against Descent

in fire

URSULA

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182

extended view-cameras, smeared the lenses with a

fine

pollen.

pure phytosphere," Harfex said. "Osden, do you pick up anything sentient?" They all turned to the Sensor. He had left the screen and was pouring himself a cup of tea. He did not answer. He seldom answered spoken questions. "It

looks

The

a

like

chitinous

rigidit}-

of

military

quite inapplicable to these teams of

command

discipline

Mad

was

Scientists;

somewhere between parliamentary procedure and peck-order, and would have their chain of

lay

driven a regular service oflBcer out of his mind.

By

the

inscrutable decision of the Authority, however, Dr.

Haito Tomiko had been given the title of Coordinator, and she now exercised her prerogative for the first time. "Mr. Sensor Osden," she said, "please answer

Mr. Harfex."

"How Osden

could

I

'pick

up' anything from

outside,"

said without turning, "with the emotions of

nine neurotic hominids pullulating around

me

like

can? When I have anything to tell you. 111 tell you. I'm aware of my responsibility as Sensor. If \ou presume to give me an order again, however,

worms

in a

Coordinator

Haito,

I'll

consider

my

responsibility

void."

Mr. Sensor. I trust no orders will be needed henceforth." Tomiko's bullfrog voice was calm, but Osden seemed to flinch slightlv as he stood with his back to her: as if the surge of her suppressed rancor had struck him with physical force. The biologist's hunch proved correct. When they began field analyses they found no animals even among the microbiota. Nobody here ate anybody else. All Hfe-forms were photos vnthesizing or sapropha"Verv-

well,

gous, living off light or death, not off

life.

Plants:

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW not one species

infinite plants,

from the house of Man.

Infinite

known

183

to the visitors

shades and intensities

of green, violet, purple, brown, red. Infinite silences.

Only the wind moved, swaying leaves and fronds, a warm soughing wind laden with spores and pollens, blowing the sweet pale-green dust over prairies of great grasses, heaths that bore no heather, flowerless forests where no foot had ever walked, no eye had ever looked. A warm, sad world, sad and serene. The Surveyors, wandering like picnickers over sunny plains of violet filicaliformes, spoke softly to each other. They knew their voices broke a silence of a thousand million years, the silence of wind and leaves, leaves and wind, blowing and ceasing and blowing again. They talked softly; but being human, they talked.

"Poor old Osden," said Jenny Chong, Bio and Tech, as she piloted a helijet on the North Polar Quadrating run. "All that fancy hi-fi stuff in his brain to receive.

"He

What

told

me

and nothing

a bust."

he hates plants," Olleroo said with a

giggle.

"You'd think he'd like them, since they don't bother

him

like

we

do."

much like looking down at

"Can't say

I

these plants myself," said

the purple undulations of the North Circumpolar Forest. "All the same. No Porlock,

mind.

No

change.

A man

alone in

it

would go

right off

his head."

"But lives,

it's

all

alive,"

Osden hates

"He's

not

Jenny Chong

said.

"And

ff

it

it."

really

so

bad,"

Olleroo

said,

mag-

nanimous. Porlock looked at her sidelong and asked, "You ever slept with him, Olleroo?"

URSULA

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184

Olleroo burst into tears and cried, "You Terrans are obscene!"

"No, she hasn't," Jenn)' Chong said, prompt to defend. "Have you, Porlock?"

The chemist laughed

uneasily: Ha, ha, ha. Flecks of his on appeared mustache. "Osden can't bear to be touched," Olleroo said shakily. "I just brushed against him once by accident and he knocked me off like I was some sort of dirty thing. We're all just things, to him.." spittle

.

.

.

"He's evil," Porlock said in a strained voice, startling the two

women.

"He'll

end up shattering

this

team,

one way or another. Mark my words. He's not fit to live with other people!" The\- landed on the North Pole. A midnight sun smoldered o\er low hills. Short, dry, greenish-pink bryoform grasses stretched away in every direction, which was all one direction, south. Subdued bv the sabotaging

it,

incredible silence, the three Surve\"ors set

up

their

instruments and collected their samples, three viruses twitching minutely on the hide of an unmoving giant.

Nobody asked Osden along on

runs as pilot or

photographer or recorder, and he never volunteered, so he seldom left base camp. He ran Harfex's botanical taxonomic data through the on-ship computers,

and served as assistant to Eskwana, whose job here was mainly repair and maintenance. Eskwana had begun to sleep a great deal, twenty-five hours or more out of the thirt)'-tsvo-hour day, dropping off in the middle of repairing a radio or checking the guidance circuits of a helijet. The Coordinator stayed at base one day to observe. No one else was home except Poswet To, who was subject to epileptic fits; Mannon had plugged her into a therap\^-circuit today in a state of preventive catatonia.

Tomiko spoke

reports into the

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

185

banks, and kept an eye on Osden and Eskwana. Two hours passed. "You might want to use the 860 microwaldoes in seaHng that connection," Eskwana said in his soft,

storage

hesitant voice.

"Obviously!" "Sorry.

"And

When

I

will

I

saw you had the 840's there—" replace them when I take the 860's

just

don't

know how

to proceed, Engineer,

I'll

out.

ask

your advice." After a minute Tomiko looked around. Sure enoucrh, there was Eskwana sound asleep, head on the table, thumb in his mouth. "Osden." The white face did not turn, he did not speak, but conveyed impatiently that he was listening. "You can't be unaware of Eskwana's vulnerability." "I am not responsible for his psychopathic reactions."

"But you are responsible for your own. Eskwana is essential to our work here, and you're not. If you can't control your hostility, you must avoid him altogether." Osden put down his tools and stood up. "With pleasure!" he said in his vindictive, scraping voice. "You could not possibly imagine what it's like to experience Eskwana's irrational terrors. To have to share his horrible cowardice, to have to cringe with

him

at everything!"

"Are you trying to justify your cruelty towards him? I thought you had more self-respect." Tomiko found herself shaking with spite. "If your empathic power really makes you share Ander's miser)-, why does it never induce the least compassion in you?" "Compassion," Osden said. "Compassion. you know about compassion?"

What do

URSULA

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186

She stared at him, but he would not look at her. "Would you like me to verbalize your present emotional affect regarding myself?" he said. "I can do so more precisely than you can. I'm trained to analyze such responses as I receive them. And I do receive them."

"But

how can

)'ou expect

you when you behave

"What does do you think the average

me

to feel kindly

how

behave, you stupid sow,

it

matter

it

makes any difference?

human

is

towards

you do?"

as

I

Do you

think

a well of loving kindness?

My

be hated or to be despised. Not being a woman or a coward, I prefer to be hated." "That's rot. Self-pity. Every man has—" "But I am not a man," Osden said. "There are all of choice

is

to

And there is m)'self I am one." Awed by that glimpse of abysmal

you.

.

solipsism, she kept silent a while; finally she said with neither spite nor pity, clinically, "You could kill yourself, Osden."

"That's your way, Haito," he jeered. "I'm not de-

pressive

and seppuku

isn't

my

bit.

What do you want

me to do here?" "Leave. Spare yourself and us. Take the aircar and a data-feeder and go do a species count. In the forest;

Harfex hasn't even started the forests yet. Take a hundred-square-meter forested area, anywhere inside radio range. But outside empathy range. Report in at

and twenty-four o'clock daily." Osden went, and nothing was heard from him

eight

for

days but laconic all-well signals twice daily. The at base camp changed like a stage set. Eskwana stayed awake up to eighteen hours a day. Poswet To got out her stellar lute and chanted the celestial five

mood

harmonies (music had driven Osden into a frenzy).

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW Mannon, Harfex, Jenny Chong and Tomiko off

tranquilizers.

187

all

went

Porlock distilled something in his

by himself. He had a hangover. Asnanifoil and Poswet To held an all-night Numerical Epiphany, that mystical orgy of higher mathematics which is the chiefest pleasure of the

laboratory and drank

it all

religious Cetian soul. Olleroo slept with everybody.

Work went well. The Hard

Scientist

came toward base

at

a run,

laboring through the high, fleshy stalks of the graminiformes. "Something— in the forest—" His eyes bulged,

mustache and fingers trembled. "Something big. Moving, behind me. I was putting in a benchmark, bending down. It came at me. As if it was swinging down out of the trees. Behind me." He stared at the others with the opaque eyes of terror or

he panted,

his

exhaustion.

down, Porlock. Take it easy. Now wait, go this again. You saw something—" "Not clearly. Just the movement. Purposive. A— an— I don't know what it could have been. Something self-moving. In the trees, the arboriformes, whatever you call 'em. At the edge of the woods." Harfex looked grim. "There is nothing here that could attack you, Porlock. There are not even microzoa. There could not be a large animal." "Could you possibly have seen an epiphyte drop suddenly, a vine come loose behind you?" "No," Porlock said. "It was coming down at me, "Sit

through

through the branches, fast. When I turned, it took off again, away and upward. It made a noise, a sort of crashing. If it wasn't an animal, God knows what it could have been! It was big— as big as a man, at least.

Maybe

a reddish color.

I

couldn't see, I'm not sure."

URSULA

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K.

188

was Osden," said Jenny Chong, "doing a Tarzan She giggled nervously, and Tomiko repressed a wild feckless laugh. But Harfex was not smiling. "One gets uneasy under the arboriformes," he said "It

act."

in his polite, repressed voice. "I've noticed that. In-

deed that may be why

I've

put

working

off

in the

hypnotic quality in the colors and

forests. There's a

spacing of the stems and branches, especially the

arranged ones; and the spore-throwers grow so regularly spaced that it seems unnatural. I find it helically

wonder

quite disagreeable, subjectively speaking.

I

a stronger effect of that sort mightn't have

produced a

hallucination

?" .

.

.

He wet

Porlock shook his head. there,"

Trying

he

said.

to attack

When Osden twenty-four

if

was

"Something. Moving with purpose.

me from behind." called

in,

punctual as

always,

at

night, Harfex told him you "Have come on anything at all,

o'clock

Porlock's report.

his lips. "It

that

Mr. Osden, that could substantiate Mr. Porlock's impression of a motile, sentient Iffe-form, in the forest?" Ssss, the radio said sardonically.

"No. Bullshit," said

Osden's unpleasant voice. "You've been actually inside the forest longef than

any of

"Do

us,"

Harfex said with unmitigable politeness.

^'0u agree

with

my

impression that the forest

ambience has a rather troubling and possibly nogenic effect on the perceptions?" Ssss. "I'll

troubled.

halluci-

agree that Porlock's perceptions are easily

Keep him

in his lab, he'll

Anything else?" "Not at present," Harfex

do

less

harm.

and Osden cut off. Nobody could credit Porlock's story, and nobody could discredit it. He was positive that something, said,

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

189

something big, had tried to attack him by surprise. It was hard to deny this, for they were on an ahen world, and everyone who had entered the forest had felt a certain chill and foreboding under the "trees." ("Call them trees, certainly," Harfex had said. "They really

same thing, They agreed

are the ent.")

had the sense

that

only, of course, altogether differ-

had felt uneasy, or had something was watching them from that they

behind.

"We've got to clear this up," Porlock said, and he asked to be sent as a temporary Biologist's Aide, like Osden, into the forest to explore and observe. Olleroo and Jenny Chong volunteered if they could go as a pair. Harfex sent them all oflF into the forest near which they were encamped, a vast tract covering fourfifths of Continent D. He forbade side arms. They

were not

to go outside a included Osden's current

fifty-kilo half-circle, site.

They

all

which

reported in

twice daily, for three days. Porlock reported a glimpse of what seemed to be a large semi-erect shape moving

through the trees across the river; Olleroo was sure she had heard something moving near the tent, the second night. "There are no animals on this planet," Harfex said, dogged. Then Osden missed his morning call. Tomiko waited less than an hour, then flew with

Harfex to the area where Osden had reported himself the night before. But as the helijet hovered over the sea of purplish leaves, illimitable, impenetrable, she felt

a panic despair.

"How can we

"He reported landing on aircar; he'll be camped near far

from

his

find

him

the river bank. Find the it,

and he

camp. Species-counting

There's the river."

in this?"

can't is

have gone

slow work.

URSULA "There's his car," foreign ghnt

among

K.

Le GUIN

Tomiko

said,

190

catching the bright

the vegetable colors and shadows.

"Here goes, then." She put the ship in hover and pitched out the ladder. She and Harfex descended. The sea of life closed over their heads.

As her feet touched the

forest floor, she

unsnapped

the flap of her holster; then glancing at Harfex,

who

was unarmed, she left the gun untouched. But her hand kept coming back up to it. There was no sound at all, as soon as they were a few meters away from the slow, brown river, and the light was dim. Great boles stood well apart, almost regularly, almost alike;

they were soft-skinned, some appearing smooth and others

spongy,

gray or greenish-brown

browni,

or

twined with cablelike creepers and festooned with epiphytes, extending rigid, entangled armfuls of big, saucer-shaped, dark leaves that formed a roof-layer twenty to thirty meters thick. The ground underfoot was springy as a mattress, every inch of it knotted with roots and peppered with small, fleshy-leaved growths. "Here's his tent," of her voice in that

Tomiko said, cowed at the sound huge community of the voiceless.

In the tent was Osden's sleeping bag, a couple of books, a box of rations.

We should be calling,

for him, she thought, but did not

shouting

even suggest

it;

nor

did Harfex. They circled out from the tent, careful to

keep each other in sight through the thick-standing presences, the crowding gloom. She stumbled over Osden's body, not thirty meters from the tent, led to it by the whitish gleam of a dropped notebook. He lay face down between two huge-rooted trees. His head and hands were covered with blood, some dried, some still

oozing red.

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

191

Harfex appeared beside her, his pale Hainish complexion quite green in the dusk. "Dead?" "No. He's been struck. Beaten. From behind." Tomiko's fingers felt over the bloody skull and nape

and temples. "A weapon or a

tool

...

I

don't find a

fracture."

As she turned Osden's body over so they could lift him, his eyes opened. She was holding him, bending close to his face. His pale lips writhed.

A

deathly fear

came into her. She screamed aloud two or three times and tried to run away, shambling and stumbling into the terrible dusk. Harfex caught her, and at his touch and the sound of his voice, her panic decreased. "What is it? What is it?" he was saying. "I don't know," she sobbed. Her heartbeat still shook her, and she could not see clearly. "The fear— the ... I panicked. When I saw his eyes." "We're both nervous. I don't understand this—" "I'm all right now, come on, we've got to get him under care." Both working with senseless haste, they lugged Osden to the riverside and hauled him up on a rope under his armpits; he dangled like a sack, twisting a little, over the glutinous dark sea of leaves. They pulled him into the helijet and took off. Within a minute they were over open prairie. Tomiko locked onto the homing beam. She drew a deep breath, and her eyes met Harfex's. "I was so terrified I almost fainted. I have never

done

that."

unreasonably frightened also," said the Hainishman, and indeed he looked aged and shaken. "Not so badly as you. But as unreasonably." "It was when I was in contact with him, holding "I

him.

was

.

.

.

He seemed to be

conscious for a moment."

URSULA "Empathy? ...

I

K.

Le GUIN

192

hope he can

tell

what

us

at-

tacked him."

Osden,

like a

and mud,

dummy

broken

half lay as they

covered with blood

had bundled him

into the

rear seats in their frantic urgency to get out of the forest.

More panic met

their arrival at base.

was

The

ineffective

and bewildering. Since Harfex stubbornly denied any possibility of animal life, they began speculating about sentient brutalit)

of the assault

sinister

|

plants, vegetable monsters, psychic projections.

Jenny

Chong's latent phobia reasserted itself and she could talk about nothing except the Dark Egos which fol-

lowed people around behind their backs. She and Olleroo and Porlock had been summoned back to base; and nobody was much inclined to go outside. Osden had lost a good deal of blood during the three or four hours he had lain alone, and concussion and severe contusions had put him in shock and semicoma. As he came out of this and began running a low fever, he called several times for "Doctor," in a plaintive voice:

gained

full

"Doctor Hammergeld consciousness,

two

.

.

."

When

he

re-

of those long days later,

Tomiko

called Harfex into his cubicle. "Osden: can you tell us what attacked you?"

The pale eyes

flickered past Harfex's face.

"You were attacked," Tomiko said gently. The shifty gaze was hatefully familiar, but she was a physician, protective of the hurt. "You

may

not

remember

it

Something attacked you. You were in the forest—" "Ah!" he cried out, his eyes growing bright and features contorting.

yet.

his

"The forest— in the forest—"

"What's in the forest?"

He

gasped for breath.

A

look of clearer conscious-

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW ness

came

193

into his face. After a while he said, "I don't

know." "Did you see what attacked you?" Harfex asked. "I don't know." "You remember it now." "I don't know." "All our lives may depend on this. You must tell us what you saw!" "I don't know," Osden said, sobbing with weakness. He was too weak to hide the fact that he was hiding the answer, yet he would not say it. Porlock, nearby, was chewing his pepper-colored mustache as he tried to hear what was going on in the cubicle. Harfex leaned over Osden and said, "You will tell us—" Tomiko had to interfere bodily. Harfex controlled himself with an effort that was painful to see.

He went

off silently

to his cubicle,

where no doubt he took a double or triple dose of The other men and women, scattered about the big frail building, a long main hall and ten

tranquilizers.

sleeping-cubicles, said nothing, but looked depressed

and edgy. Osden, as always, even now, had them all at his mercy. Tomiko looked down at him with a rush of hatred that burned in her throat like bile. This monstrous egotism that fed itself on others' emotions, this absolute selfishness, was worse than any hideous Like a congenital monster, he should not have lived. Should not be alive. Should have died. Why had his head not been split open? deformity of the

flesh.

and white, his hands helpless at his sides, his colorless eyes were wide open, and there were tears running from the comers. Tomiko moved toward him suddenly. He tried to flinch away. "Don't," he said in a weak hoarse voice, and tried to raise his hands to protect his head. "Don't!"

As he

lay

flat

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She sat down on the folding stool beside the cot, and after a while put her hand on his. He tried to pull away, but lacked the strength. A long silence fell between them. "Osden," she murmured, "I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. I will )'0u well. Let me will you well, Osden. I don t want to hurt you. Listen, I do see now. It was one of us. That's right, isn't

it.

No, don't answer, only

tell

me

I'm wrong; but I'm not ... Of course there are animals on this planet: ten of them. I don't care who it if

was.

It

doesn't matter, does

it.

could have been me,

It

now. I realize that. I didn't understand how it is, Osden. You can't see how diflBcult it is for us to underBut listen. If it were love, instead of hate stand and fear ... Is it never love?"

just

.

.

.

"No."

"Why

not?

Why

never be? Are human terrible. Never mind, never

should

all so weak? That mind, don't worry. Keep

beings

is

it

still.

At

least right

now

it

isn't

Sympathy at least, concern, well-wishing. You do feel that, Osden? Is it what you feel?" "Among other things," he said, almost in-

hate,

is

it?

.

.

.

audible.

"Noise

from

my

subconscious,

I

And when we

suppose.

Listen, everybody else in the room found you there in the forest, when I tried to turn you over, you partly wakened, and I felt a horror of you. I was insane with fear for a minute. Was that your fear .

of

.

.

me I felt?" "No."

Her hand was

still

on

his,

sinking toward sleep, like a

and he was quite

man

in pain

who

relaxed,

has been

given relief from pain. "The forest," he muttered; she could barelv understand him. "Afraid."

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

195

She pressed him no further, but kept her hand on his and watched him go to sleep. She knew what she felt, and what therefore he must feel. She was confident of it: there is only one emotion, or state of being, that can thus wholly reverse itself, polarize, within one moment. In Great Hainish indeed there is one word, ontd, for love and for hate. She was not in love with Osden, of course, that is another kettle of fish. What she felt for him was onta, polarized hate. She held his hand and the current flowed between them, the tremendous electricity of touch, which he had always dreaded. As he slept, the ring of anatomy-chart muscles around his mouth relaxed, and Tomiko saw on his face what none of them had ever seen, very faint,

a smile.

It

He slept on.

faded.

He was tough; next day he was sitting up, and hungry. Harfex wished to interrogate him, but Tomiko put him off. She hung a sheet of polythene over the cubicle door, as it

actually cut

Osden himself had

often done. "Does

down your empathic

reception?" she

asked, and he replied, in the dry, cautious tone they

were now using

to

each other, "No."

"Just a warning, then."

More thought it worked There had been

faith-healing.

"Partly.

.

.

.

Maybe

love, once.

it

A

Hammergeld

Dr. does, a

little."

terrified child, suffo-

cating in the tidal rush and battering of the huge

emotions of adults, a drowning child, saved by one man. Taught to breathe, to live, by one man. Given everything, all protection and love, by one man.

Father/mother/God: no

other.

"Is

he

still

alive?"

Tomiko asked, thinking of Osden s incredible loneliness, and the strange cruelty of the great doctors. She was shocked when she heard his forced, tinny laugh.

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"He died at least two and a half centuries ago," Osden said. "Do \ou forget where we are, Coordinator? ." We've all left our little families behind .

.

Outside the pol\thene curtain the eight other human beings on World 4470 moved vaguely. Their

were low and strained. Eskwana slept; Poswet To was in therapy; Jenny Chong was trying to rig

voices

lights

her cubicle so that she wouldn't cast a

in

shadow. "They're all

all

Tomiko said, scared. "They've about what attacked you. A sort of

scared,"

got these ideas

ape-potato, a giant fanged spinach,

I

don't

know

.

.

.

Even Harfex. You may be right not to force them to see. That would be worse, to lose confidence in one another. But

why

are

we

all

so shaky, unable to face

the fact, going to pieces so easily? Are

we

really all

insane?" "We'll soon be

more

so."

"Why?" "There

He

is

something."

closed his mouth, the muscles of his lips stood

out rigid.

"Something sentient?"

"A

sentience."

"In the forest?"

He nodded. "What is

it,

then-?"

He began to moved restlessly. "When I "The

fear."

look strained again, and fell,

didn't lose consciousness at once. it.

I

don't know.

It

was more

like

there,

Or

I

you know,

I

kept regaining

being paralyzed."

'Tou were." "I was on the ground. I couldn't get up. My face was in the dirt, in that soft leafmold. It was in my nostrils and eyes. I couldn't move. Couldn't see. As if I

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

197

was in the ground. Sunk into it, part of it. I knew I was between two trees even though I never saw them. I suppose I could feel the roots. Below me in the ground, down under the ground. My hands were bloody, I could feel that, and the blood made the dirt around my face sticky. I felt the fear. It kept growing. As if they'd finally known I was there, lying on them there, under them, among them, the thing they feared, and yet part of their fear itself. I couldn't stop sending the fear back, and it kept growing, and I couldn't move, I couldn't get away. I would pass out, I think, and then the fear would bring me to again, and I still couldn't move. Any more than they can."

Tomiko

felt

the cold stirring of her hair, the ready-

who

ing of the apparatus of terror. "They:

are they,

Osden?" "They, it— I don't know. The fear."

"What is he talking about?" Harfex demanded when Tomiko reported this conversation. She would not let Harfex question Osden yet, feeling that she must protect Osden from the onslaught of the Hainishman s powerful, overrepressed emotions. Unfortunately this fire of paranoid anxiety that burned in poor Harfex, and he thought she and Osden were in league, hiding some fact of great importance or peril

fueled the slow

from the

rest of the team.

"It's like

phant. tience,

"But

the blind

man

trying to describe the ele-

Osden hasn't seen or heard the any more than we have." he's felt

it,

my

.

.

.

the sen-

dear Haito," Harfex said with

just-suppressed rage. "Not empathically. On his skull. It came and knocked him down and beat him with a

blunt instrument.

Did he not catch one glimpse

of

it?"

"What would he have

seen, Harfex?"

Tomiko

asked,

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but he would not hear her meaningful tone; even he had blocked out that comprehension. What one fears is alien. The murderer is an outsider, a foreigner, not one of us. The evil is not in me! "The first blow knocked him pretty well out,"

Tomiko

said a

little

wearily, "he didn't see anything.

But when he came to again, alone in the forest, he felt a great fear. Not his own fear, an empathic affect. He is certain of that. And certain it was nothing picked up from any of us. So that evidently the native life-forms are not

all

insentient."

Harfex looked at her a moment, grim. "You're trying to frighten me, Haito. I do not understand your table,

He

up and went walking slowly and stiffly,

motives."

got

off to his

like a

laboratory

man

of eighty

not of forty.

She looked round at the others. She felt some Her new, fragile, and profound interdependence with Osden gave her, she was well aware, some added strength. But if even Harfex could not keep his head, who of the others would? Porlock and Eskwana were shut in their cubicles, the others were all working or busy with something. There was something queer about their positions. For a while the desperation.

Coordinator could not tell what it was, then she saw that they were all sitting facing the nearby forest. Playing chess with Asnanifoil, Olleroo had edged her chair around until

was almost beside his. She went to Mannon, who was dissecting a tangle of spidery brown roots, and told him to look for the pattern-puzzle. He saw it at once, and said with unusual brevity, "Keeping an eye on the enemy." "What enemy? What do you feel, Mannon?" She had' a sudden hope in him as a psychologist, on this it

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

199

obscure ground of hints and empathies where biolo-

went

gists

astray.

with a specific spatial orientation. But I am not an empath. Therefore, the anxiety is explicable in terms of the particular stress"I feel a strong anxiety

situation, that forest,

and

that

my

is

is

the attack on a team

member

also in terms of the total stress-situation,

presence in a totally alien environment, for

which the archetypical connotations 'forest'

of

word

the

provide an inevitable metaphor."

Tomiko woke to hear Osden screaming nightmare; Mannon was calming him, and she sank

Hours in

in the

later

back into her own dark-branching pathless dreams. In the morning Eskwana did not wake. He could not be roused with stimulant drugs. He clung to his sleep, slipping farther and farther back, mumbling softly now and then until, wholly regressed, he lay curled on his side,

"Two Indians

"And

thumb days: .

.

."

at his lips, gone.

two down. Ten little Indians, nine That was Porlock.

you're the next

little

Indian," Jenny

little

Chong

snapped. "Go analyze your urine, Porlock!" "He is driving us all insane," Porlock said, getting up and waving his left arm. "Can't you feel it? For

God's sake, are you

all

deaf and blind? Can't you feel

emanations? It all comes from him—from his room there—from his mind. He is driving us all insane with fear!" "Who is?" said Asnanifoil, looming black, precipi-

what

he's doing, the

and hairy over the little Terran. "Do I have to say his name? Osden, then. Osden! Osden! Why do you think I tried to kill him? In selfdefense! To save all of us! Because you won't see what he's doing to us. He's sabotaged the mission by maktous,

URSULA ing us quarrel, and

insane by

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now

he's

200

going to drive us

projecting fear at us so that

we

all

can't sleep

huge radio that doesn't make any sound, but it broadcasts all the time, and you can't sleep, and you can't think. Haito and Harfex are alread)' under his control but the rest of you can be saved. I had to do it!" "You didn't do it very well," Osden said, standing half-naked, all rib and bandage, at the door of his cubicle. "I could have hit myself harder. Hell, it isn't me that's scaring you blind, Porlock, it's out thereor think, like a

there, in the

woods!"

made an

attempt to assault Osden; Asnanifoil held him back, and continued to hold him effortlessly while Mannon gave him a sedative shot. He was put away shouting about giant Porlock

radios. In a

ineffectual

minute the sedative took

effect,

and he

joined a peaceful silence to Eskwana's.

"Now, by my Gods, \ou'll tell us what you know and all you know." Osden said, "I don't know anything." He looked battered and faint. Tomiko made him sit "All right," said Harfex.

down

before he talked.

"After I'd been three days in the forest,

I

thought

I

was occasionally receiving some kind of faint affect." "Wliy didn't you report it?" "Thought I was going spla, like the rest of you." "That, equally, should have been reported." "You'd have called me back to base. I couldn't take it. You realize that mv inclusion in the mission was a bad mistake. I'm not able to coexist with nine other neurotic personalities at close quarters. I was wrong to volunteer for Extreme Survey, and the Authority was wrong to accept me." No one spoke; but Tomiko saw, with certainty this

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW time, the flinch in Osden's shoulders

and the

201

tighten-

ing of his facial muscles, as he registered their bitter

agreement.

"Anyhow, I didn't want to come back to base because I was curious. Even going psycho, how could I pick up empathic affects when there was no creature to emit them? They weren't bad, then. Very vague. Queer. Like a draft in a closed room, a corner of your eye. Nothing really."

flicker in the

For a moment he had been borne up on their listening: they heard, so he spoke. He was wholly at their mercy. If they disliked him, he had to be hateful; if they mocked him, he became grotesque; if they listened to him, he was the storyteller. He was helplessly obedient to the demands of their emotions, reactions, moods. And there were seven of them, too many to

cope with, so that he must be constantly knocked about from one to another's whim. He could not find coherence. Even as he spoke and held them, somebody's attention would wander: Olleroo perhaps was thinking that he wasn't unattractive; Harfex was seeking the ulterior motive of his words; Asnanif oil's mind,

which could not be long held by the concrete, was roaming off toward the eternal peace of number; and Tomiko was distracted by pity, by fear. Osden's voice faltered. He lost the thread. "I ... I thought it must be the trees," he said, and stopped. "It's not the trees," Harfex said. "They have no more nervous system than do plants of the Hainish Descent

on Earth. None." "You're not seeing the forest for the trees, as they say on Earth," Mannon put in, smiling elfinly; Harfex stared at him.

"What about

those root-nodes we've

been puzzling about for twenty days— eh?" "What about them?"

URSULA

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202

Connections among the trees. Right? Now, let's just suppose, most improbably, that you knew nothing of animal brainstructure. And you were given one axon, or one detached glial cell, to examine. Would you be likely to

"They

indubitably, connections.

are,

discover what

it

was? Would you see that the

cell

was

capable of sentience?" "No. Because

isn't.

it

A

single cell

mechanical response to stimulus.

No

is

capable of

more. Are you

hypothesizing that individual arboriformes are in a kind of brain,

"Not

'cells'

Mannon?"

merely pointing out that they are all interconnected, both by the root-node linkage and by your green epiphytes in the branches. A linkage of incredible complexity and physical extent. Why, even the prairie grass-forms have those root-connectors, exactly. I'm

don't they? thing,

you

I

know

that sentience or intelligence isn't a

can't find

it in,

or analyze

it

out from, the

a function of the connected cells.

cells of

a brain.

It is, in

a sense, the connection: the connectedness.

It's

doesn't exist. I'm not trying to say

it exists.

It

I'm only

Osden might be able to describe it." And Osden took him up, speaking as if in trance.

guessing that "Sentience moveless.

without

Some

sponse to sun, to

senses.

irritability,

light, to

Blind,

deaf,

nerveless,

Re-

response to touch.

water, and chemicals in the

earth around the roots. Nothing comprehensible to an

animal mind. Presence without mind. Awareness of being, without object or subject. Nirvana."

"Then why do you receive fear?" Tomiko asked in a low voice. "I don't know. I can't see how awareness of objects, of others, could arise: an unperceiving response But there was an uneasiness, for days. And then when I lay between the two trees and my blood was on their .

.

.

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW roots—" Osden's face glittered with sweat.

"It

203

became

he said shrilly, "only fear." "If such a function existed," Harfex said, "it would not be capable of conceiving of a self-moving, material entity, or responding to one. It could no more become aware of us than we can 'become aware' of Infinity." fear,"

"The

silence of those infinite expanses terrifies me,"

muttered Tomiko. "Pascal was aware of

way

Infinity.

By

of fear."

"To a

forest,"

Mannon

"we might appear as What moves quickly The rootless would be alien, said,

forest fires. Hurricanes. Dangers.

dangerous, to a plant. terrible. And if it is mind,

is

seems only too probable that it might become aware of Osden, whose own mind is open to connection with all others so long as he's conscious, and who was lying in pain and afraid within

actually

it,

it

inside

it.

No wonder

it

was

afraid—"

"There is no being, no huge creature, no person! There could at most be only a function—" "There is only a fear," Osden said. They were all still awhile, and heard the stillness

"Not

'it,'

"

Harfex

said.

outside. "Is that

what

I feel all

the time coming

up behind

me?" Jenny Chong asked, subdued. Osden nodded. "You all feel it, deaf as you are. Eskwana's the worst off, because he actually has some empathic capacity. He could send if he learned how, but he's too weak, never will be anything but a

medium." "Listen, Osden,"

Tomiko

said,

"you can send. Then

send to it-the forest, the fear out there-tell that we won't hurt it. Since it has, or is, some sort of affect that translates into what we feel as emotion, can't you

URSULA translate back?

we

K.

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204

Send out a message,

We

are harmless,

are friendly."

"You must know that nobody can emit a false empathic message, Haito. You can't send something that doesn't exist."

"But we don't intend harm, we are friendly." "Are we? In the forest, when you picked me up, did

you

feel friendly?"

"No. Terrified. But that's— it, the forest, the plants, not

my own fear, isn't it?"

"What's the diflFerence? It's all you felt. Can't you see," and Osden's voice rose in exasperation, "why I dislike

you and you

see that

I

dislike

me,

all

of

you? Can't you

retransmit every negative or aggressive

towards me since we first met? I return your hostilit)', with thanks. I do it in selfdefense. Like Porlock. It is self-defense, though, it's the only technique I developed to replace my original defense of total withdrawal from others. Unfortuaffect you've felt

nately

it

creates a closed circuit, self-sustaining

and

me was

the

self-reinforcing.

Your

initial

reaction to

instinctive antipathy to a cripple;

hatred.

Can you

fail to

see

mv

by now

point?

of course

it's

The forest-mind

out there transmits

onl\- terror, now, and the only message I can send it is terror, because when exposed to it I can feel nothing except terror!" "What must we do, then?" said Tomiko, and Mannon replied promptly, "Move camp. To another conti-

nent. If there are plant-minds there, they'll

notice us, as this one was;

be slow to

maybe thev won't

notice us

at aU."

would be a considerable relief," Osden observed stiffly. The others had been watching him with a new curiosity. He had revealed himself, they had seen him "It

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

205

he was, a helpless man in a trap. Perhaps, like Tomiko, they had seen that the trap itself, his crass

as

and cruel egotism, was their own construction, not They had built the cage and locked him in it, and a caged ape he threw

out through the bars.

filth

meeting him, they had offered strong enough to offer

him

his.

like

trust, if

love,

If,

they had been

how might he have

appeared to them?

None

of

them could have done

so,

and

it

was too

late now. Given time, given solitude, Tomiko might

have built up with him a slow resonance of feeling, a consonance of trust, a harmony: but there was no time, their job must be done. There was not room enough for the cultivation of so great a thing, and they must make do with sympathy, with pity, the small change of love. Even that much had given her strength, but it was nowhere near enough for him. She could see in his flayed face now his savage resentment of their curiosity, even of her pity. "Go lie down, that gash is bleeding again," she said, -and he obeyed her.

Next morning they packed up, melted down the sprayform hangar and living quarters, lifted Gum on mechanical drive and took her haffway around World 4470, over the red and green lands, the many warmgreen seas. They had picked out a likely spot on Continent G: a prairie, twenty thousand square kilos of windswept graminfformes. No forest was within a hundred kilos of the site, and there were no lone trees or groves on the plain. The plant-forms occurred only in large species-colonies, never intermingled, except

saprophytes and sporebearers. The team sprayed holomeld over structure forms, and by evening of the thirty-two-hour day were

for certain tiny ubiquitous

URSULA settled in to the

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206

new camp. Eskwana was

still

asleep

and Porlock still sedated, but everyone else was cheerful. "You can breathe here!" they kept saying. Osden got on his feet and went shakily to the doorway; leaning there, he looked through twilight over the dim reaches of the swaying grass that was not grass. There was a faint, sweet odor of pollen on the wind; no sound but the soft, vast sibilance of wind. His bandaged head cocked a little, the empath stood motionless for a long time. Darkness came, and the stars, lights in the windows of the distant house of Man. The wind had ceased, there was no sound. He listened.

Tomiko listened. She lay and heard the blood in her arteries, the breathing of sleepers, the wind blowing, the dark veins running, the dreams advancing, the vast static of stars increasing as the universe died slowly, the sound of death walking. She struggled out of her bed, fled the tiny In the long night Haito

still

solitude of her cubicle. lay

strait]' acketed,

Eskwana alone

slept.

Porlock

raving softly in his obscure native

tongue. Olleroo and Jenny Chong were playing cards, grim-faced. Poswet To was in the therapy niche,

plugged in. Asnanifoil was drawing a mandala, the Third Pattern of the Primes. Mannon and Harfex were sitting up with Osden. She changed the bandages on Osden's head. His lank, reddish hair, where she had not had to shave it, looked strange. It was salted with white, now. Her hands shook as she worked. Nobody had yet said anything.

"How

can the fear be here too?" she said, and her voice rang flat and false in the terrific silence of the vegetable night. "It's

not just the trees; the grasses too

." .

.

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

207

"But we're twelve thousand kilos from where we were this morning, we left it on the other side of the planet."

one,"

"It's all

How

long does

Osden

"One big green thought.

said.

take a thought to get from one side

it

of your brain to the other?" "It doesn't think. It isn't thinking," lessly.

"It's

merely

network

a

of

Harfex said

life-

processes.

The

branches, the epiphytic growths, the roots with those nodal junctures between individuals: they must all be

capable

There are no individual

Even

ing.

electrochemical

transmitting

of

the pollen

is

impulses.

plants, then, properly speak-

part of the linkage, no doubt, a

windborne sentience, connecting overseas. But it is not conceivable. That all the biosphere of a planet should be one network of communications, sensitive,

sort of

."

irrational, immortal, isolated

are.

.

Osden. "That's

"Isolated," said isn't

.

it!

That's the fear. It

that we're motile, or destructive.

We are other.

"You're right,"

It's

Mannon

said,

we

just that

There has never been any

other."

almost whispering. "It relationship with any-

No enemies. No thing but itself. One alone forever." has no peers.

"Then what's

its

function in species-survival?"

"None, maybe," Osden said. "Why are you getting teleological, Harfex? Aren't you a Hainishman? Isn't the measure of complexity the measure of the eternal joy?"

Harfex did not take the bait. He looked ill. "We should leave this world," he said. "Now you know why I always want to get out, get away from you," Osden said with a kind of morbid geniality. "It isn't pleasant, If

only

it

is

were an animal

through to animals.

I

it-the other's fear? intelligence.

I

.

.

.

can get

get along with cobras and tigers;

URSULA

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208

superior intelligence gives one the advantage.

should

I

have been used in a zoo, not on a human team ... If I could get through to the damned stupid potato! If it wasn't so overwhelming ... I still pick up more than the fear, you know. And before it panicked it had a— there was a serenity. I couldn't take it in, then, I didn't realize how big it was. To know the whole daylight, after all, and the whole night. All the winds and the lulls together. The winter stars and the summer stars at the same time. To have roots, and no enemies. To be entire. Do you see? No invasion. No others. To be whole ..." He had never spoken before, Tomiko thought. "You are defenseless against it, Osden," she said. "Your personality has changed already. You're vulnerable to it. We may not all go mad, but you will, if we don't leave."

He

hesitated, then

he looked up

at

Tomiko, the

time he had ever met her eyes, a long,

still

first

look, clear

as water.

"What's sanity ever done for me?" he said, mocking. "But you have a point, Haito. You have something there."

"We should

get away," Harf ex muttered.

gave in to municate?" "If I

"By

'give

in,' "

it,"

Osden mused, "could

Mannon

I

com-

said in a rapid, nervous

assume that you mean, stop sending back the empathic information which you receive from the plant-entity: stop rejecting the fear, and absorb it. That will either kill you at once, or drive you back into voice, "I

total psychological

"Why?"

my

withdrawal, autism."

said Osden. "Its

salvation

is

message

is

rejection.

rejection. It's not intelligent.

But

I

But am."

"

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

209

wrong. What can a single human brain achieve against something so vast?" "A single human brain can perceive pattern on the

"The

scale

is

scale of stars

pret

it

and

galaxies,"

Tomiko

Mannon looked from one

you

inter-

as Love."

Harfex was "It'd

"and

said,

be easier

will fly

to the

other of them;

silent.

in the forest,"

Osden

said.

"Which

of

me over?"

"When?" "Now. Before you all crack up or go violent." "I will," Tomiko said. "None of us will," Harfex said. "I can t," Mannon said. "I ... I am too frightened. I'd crash the jet."

"Bring Eskwana along.

If

I

can pull

this

off,

he

might serve as a medium." "Are you accepting the Sensor s plan, Coordinator?" Harfex asked formally. "Yes."

come with you, however." Harfex," Tomiko said, Osden's face, the ugly white mask trans-

"I disapprove. "I

I

will

think we're compelled,

looking at

figured, eager as a lover's face.

Olleroo and Jenny Chong, playing cards to keep their thoughts from their haunted beds, their mounting dread, chattered like scared children. "This thing, it's

in the forest,

it'll

get

you—"

"Scared of the dark?" Osden jeered.

"But look Asnanifoil—

at

Eskwana, and Porlock,

and even

an impulse passing through synapses, a wind passing through branches. It is only "It can't

hurt you.

a nightmare."

It's

URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

210

Eskwana curled up still compartment, Tomiko pilot-

The}' took off in a helijet,

sound asleep in the rear ing, Harfex and Osden silent, watching ahead for the dark line of forest across the vague gray miles of starlit plain.

They neared the black them was darkness.

line,

crossed

it;

now under

She sought a landing place, flying low, though she had to fight her frantic wish to fly high, to get out, get away. The huge vitality of the plant-world was far stronger here in the forest, and its panic beat in immense dark waves. There was a pale patch ahead, a bare knoll-top a little higher than the tallest of the black shapes around it; the not-trees; the rooted; the parts of the whole. She set the helijet down in the glade, a bad landing. Her hands on the stick were slippery as

if

she had rubbed them \vith cold soap.

About them now stood the forest, black in darkness. Tomiko cowered down and shut her eves. Eskwana moaned in his sleep. Harfex's breath came short and loud, and he sat rigid, even when Osden reached across him and slid the door open. Osden stood up; his back and bandaged head were just visible in the dim glow of the control-panel as he paused stooping in the doorway. Tomiko was shaking. She could not raise her head. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no," she said in a whisper. "No. No. No."

Osden moved suddenly and the doorway, I

am

down

quietly,

into the dark.

swinging out of

He was

coming! said a great voice that

gone.

made no

sound.

Tomiko screamed. Harfex coughed; he seemed be

tr)

ing to stand up, but did not do

Tomiko drew

in

upon

to

so.

herself, all centered in the

"

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

211

blind eye in her belly, in the center of her being; and outside that there was nothing but the fear. It

ceased.

She raised her head; slowly unclenched her hands. She sat up straight. The night was dark, and stars shone over the forest. There was nothing else. "Osden," she said, but her voice would not come. She spoke again, louder, a lone bullfrog croak. There was no reply. She began to realize that something had gone wrong with Harfex. She was trying to find his head in the darkness, for he had slipped down from the seat, when all at once, in the dead quiet, in the dark rear compartment of the craft, a voice spoke. "Good," it said.

was Eskwana's voice. She snapped on the interior lights and saw the engineer lying curled up asleep, his hand half over his mouth. The mouth opened and spoke. "All well," it said. "Osden— It

"All

well,"

the

said

soft

from Eskwana's

voice

mouth.

"Where

are you?*'

Silence.

"Come back." Wind was rising. "You

"I'll

stay here," the soft voice said.

can't stay—"

Silence.

"You'd be alone, Osden!" "Listen."

The

voice was fainter, slurred, as

the sound of wind. "Listen.

She called answer.

his

Eskwana

name lay

I will

you

after that,

still.

if lost

in

well."

but there was no

Harfex lay

stiller.

"Osden!" she cried, leaning out the doorway into the

URSULA

K.

Le GUIN

212

dark, wind-shaken silence of the forest of being. "I

come back. I must get Harfex come back, Osden!" Silence and wind in leaves. will

They

to the base.

finished the prescribed survey of

the eight of them; Asnanifoil

and one

the forest daily at

it

World

I

will

4470,

took them forty-one days more.

or another of the first,

women went

into

searching for Osden in the

Tomiko was not in her heart sure which bare knoll they had landed on that night in the very heart and vortex of terror. They left piles of supplies for Osden, food enough for fifty years, clothing, tents, tools. They did not go on searching; there was no way to find a man alone, hiding, if he wanted to hide, in those unending labyrinths and dim corridors vine-entangled, root-floored. They might have passed within arm's reach of him and never seen region around the bare knoll; though

him.

But he was there; for there was no fear any more. Rational, and valuing reason more highly after an intolerable experience of the immortal mindless, Tomiko tried to understand rationally what Osden had done. But the words escaped her control. He had taken the fear into himself, and accepting had transcended it. He had given up his self to the alien, an unreserved surrender, that left no place for evil. He had learned the love of the Other, and thereby had been given his whole self. But this is not the vocabulary of reason.

The people

team walked under the trees, through the vast colonies of life, surrounded by a dreaming silence, a brooding calm that was halfaware of them and wholly indifferent to them. There were no hours. Distance was no matter. Had we but of the Survey

VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW

213

world enough and time The planet turned between the sunlight and the great dark; winds of winter and summer blew fine, pale pollen across the quiet .

.

.

seas.

Gum years,

returned after to

Smeming

what

had

many

surveys, years

several

centuries

Port on Pesm. There were

still

and

light-

ago

men

been

there to

receive (incredulously) the team's reports and to re-

cord

its

losses:

Sensor Osden,

Biologist Harfex,

left as a colonist.

dead

of fear,

and

FALSE CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was bom in California and attended San Francisco State University-. She has worked with mentally disturbed children and as a statistical demographic cartographer. She began writing professionally in 1961 for a children's theater company; four of her plays have been produced. She is also a trained musician and composer and teaches voice. She is the author of Save Me a Place by the Rail (Orangetree Press), a book about opera.

Ms. Yarbro began publishing science fiction in 1967, stories have appeared in If, Galaxy, Infinity, Strange Bedfellows, Planet One and other magazines and anthologies. She is the co-editor, with Thomas N. Scortia,

and her

of the anthology

Two Views

of

Wonder

(Ballantine).

Her

work has been nominated for the "Edgar" award given annually by the Mystery Writers of America for the best work published in that field each year. A former Secretary of the Science Fiction Writers of America, she to

Donald Simpson, an

artist

Dawn" shows

and

is

married

inventor.

and devastated future Earth. A young woman, biologically adapted to this environment, travels across this bleak landscape and is a "False

us a polluted

witness to the brutality of survival.

Most

were near the silos and storage tanks, w^here the defenders had retreated in the end. Caught between the Pirates and the Sacramento, they of the bodies

214

FALSE

DAWN

215

had been wiped out to a man. Mixed in with a few Pirate bodies Thea saw an occasional CD uniform. The cops had gone over at last. She moved through the stench

of the tumbled, looted corpses cautiously, carefully. She had not survived for her twenty-six years being foolhardy.

made her way east into Chico— what Here the Pirates had revenged themselves on the few remaining townspeople. There were men, terribly mutilated men, hanging by their heels from lampposts, turning as they swung. And there were women. One of the women wasn't dead yet. Her ravaged body hung naked from a broken billboard. Her legs were splayed wide and anchored with ropes. Her legs and belly were bloody, there were heavy bruises on her face and breasts, and she had been branded with After dark she

was

left of

a large

it.

"M" for mutant.

When Thea came

near her, she jerked in her bonds and shrieked laughter that ended in a shuddering

me ever get like that, Thea thought, spasmodic thrusts with her woman's watching the hips. Not like that. There was a movement down the street and Thea froze. She could not run without being seen and she could not wait if it were Pirates. She moved slowly, melting into the shadow of a gutted building, diswail. Don't let

appearing into the darkness as she kept watch. The creatures that appeared were dogs;

lean,

wretched things with red-rimmed eyes and raised hackles. Thea had seen enough of the wild dogs to know that these were hunting meat. In the woman they found it. The largest of the dogs approached her on his belly, whining a little. He made a quick dash and nipped the leg nearest him. Aside from a long

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO

216

howl of laughter the woman did nothing. Emboldened, the dog came toward her, taking a more decisive bite from the leg. The response was a jerk and a scream followed by low laughter. The other dogs grew bolder. Each began to make quick, bouncing attacks, taking token bits of flesh from her legs and feet, growing ever bolder when they met with no resistance. Thea watched stonily from the shadows, fitting a quarrel to her makeshift crossbow. Then she braced her forearm and pulled the trigger. The high sobbing laughter was cut off with a bubble and a sigh as the quarrel bit into the woman's neck. There was no sound then but the snarling dogs. In the deep shadows of the alley Thea moved away from the dogs. I'd forgot about that, she said to herself accusingly. There will be more dogs. And rats, she thought, after a moment. As she walked she tightened her crossbow again and fitted another quarrel to it. She probably wasn't a mutant, she let herself think. Probably she was just healthy. She didn't want to consider what the Pirates would do to Thea herself, genetically altered as she was.

The sound

of

the dogs

died behind her in the

empty, littered

streets. Here and there she saw piles of some dead from fighting, others from more sinister things. The "M" brand was on many of them. Twice she saw the unmistakable signs of New Leprosy on the blind faces, skin scaled over and turning the

bodies,

silver that allied

the

first

it

leprosy the

with the old disease. But unlike

new

had carried

variety

was contagious. And

it away with them. She chafed her dark, hard skin, long since burned to a red-brown. So far she had been lucky and had resisted most of the new diseases; but she knew that the

the Pirates

DAWN

FALSE

217

luck would eventually run out, even for her. Even

if

she found the Gold Lake Settlement and they ac-

cepted her. After

more than an hour

of walking she left Chico fields and had been forced from the

behind, striking eastward through ruined

swampland. The ground and now the

stalks crisscrossed underfoot like

great soggy snakes.

A

last crops

heavy phosphorescence hung

over the marshland, a light that did not illuminate or warm. Thea did not know the source of it, but she avoided the spot. Since the Sacramento Disaster four

had ceased to be safe land. Before it had been a haven from the pollution around it. Now, with the delta a reeking chemical quagmire, the upper river was slowly sur-

years ago the valley

the levees had crumbled,

rendering to the spreading contamination.

She stumbled and saw a dead cat at her feet. Animals had been at it: the chest gaped and the eye sockets were empty, but the fur was healthy. She shook her head at the waste of it. Bending closer, she noticed with surprise that the front paws were the tawny-orange of regenerated tissue. Maybe it had been virally mutated, as she had been. Or maybe the virus was catching. A lot of other things sure were catching. Shaking her head again, she dragged some rotting stalks over the little carcass, knowing it for the

empty gesture it was even as she did it. The ground grew soggier as she went, the old stalks becoming a vile goo, and sticky. She looked ahead for firmer ground and saw an oily stretch of water moving sluggishly under the wan moon. Beyond was the stunted fuzz of what had been cattails. Sliding the nictitating membranes over her eyes, she dropped to her knees and moved forward, her crossbow at the ready. The river was not a friendly place.

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO Once she heard

218

bank and were crashed away up

a pig rooting along the

she stopped. Those pigs that were

still

alive

dangerous and hungry. Eventually it the bank and Thea began paddling again. One thing to say for the Disaster, she thought as the stinking water surged around her. It killed a lot of insects. Then she reached the cattails and slipped in among them for cover. There was a kind of protection that would last her until first light, when she would have to find higher ground. She found a hummock and curled up on it for a few hours' sleep.

The dawn brought more animals to the river, and a few foraging Pirates who swept by in their modified open vans. They had rifles and took three shots for two carcasses— the pig from the night before and an ancient horse with broken knees.

"Bring 'em

in!

Bring 'em

in!" hollered the

one in the

lead van.

me

a hand, you snot-fucking Mute!" gave a shout. "Montague gave you hauling this week. Cox didn't change that. I didn't have maggots in my pack." He snorted mockingly and revved

"Give

The

first

the engine.

"You know what you have to do if }ou waste fuel," the one doing the hauling said gleefully. "Just you shove it!" shouted the first, panic in his voice. "I don't want to hear no threats from you. I could drop \'0u right now." "Then you'd have to do the hauling," reminded the second laconically, then added, "Cox says Montague's dead, anyway." "Him and his guard," the one on the bank said, as if it were a curse. "They tried to stop Wilson and me

when we

got that

Mute kid out

of the cellar. Said to

FALSE leave

him

alone.

A

DAWN

219

rotten Mute! Montague; he

was

crazy."

They were

but for the whir of the engines and the sound of the dead animals being dragged through silent

mud. Thea huddled in the cattails, hardly daring to breathe. She had seen Cloverdale after they had sacked it, in the days before Montague had organized them under that ironic rallying cry, "Survive!" the

"That's one," said the

first.

"Lick your cock."

Again there was

silence until the one doing the

hauling

let out a scream. "What's the matter?" demanded the one at the vans.

"Water spiders!" the other shrieked in terror. "Dozens of 'em!" And he made a horrible sound in his throat.

From

her protection in the

Thea watched, Water spiders were

cattails,

crouching, fright in her eyes.

nothing to mess with, even for her. She clung to the reeds around her and watched for the hard, shiny bodies with the long hooked mandibles filled with paralyzing venom. Three of them could kill you in less than ten minutes. Dozens, and you didn't have a chance at all. The voice-rending shouts had stopped, and soon a body drifted aimlessly by, with the spiders climbing

over the face toward the eyes. Thea turned away.

on the bank there was a cough and the motor whizzed as the Pirate on the van drove off too fast. Thea waited until the body had slid out of sight around a bend in the river before she moved free from

Up

the

cattails.

Then she ran

off

through the brushy

undergrowth, not pausing to look for Pirates or for

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO spiders.

fright

Her knees were uncertain

made

220

as jelly

and her

her light-headed. She ran frantically until

she was on higher ground; there she stopped and breathed.

She had come about half a mile from the river in those few minutes, and had left a wake like a timber run through the underbrush. There was nothing to concern her about that: it could easily have been caused by an animal and would not be investigated. But the hunting party meant that the Pirates were still around, ma)be camped. She had to get away from them, or she would end up like the woman in Chico. Not like that. She shuddered. She guessed that the Pirates were camped near the river, within walking distance of Chico, so she started off to the southeast, keeping to the cover of the trees. The scrub oaks were gone, but the hardier fruit trees had run riot. Thea knew that if she had to, she could climb into the trees and pick off the Pirates one by one with her crossbow until they killed her. That would take time. And she needed time. By midday she had put several miles between herself and the Pirates. The river lay below her, a greasy brown smudge. The east fork of the Sacramento was dying.

That was when she found the makeshift silo. Some farmer in the hills, maybe one of the old communes,

had

and there it stood: and dry. A haven for the

built a silo to store his grain,

lopsided, rusty, but safe

and perhaps a base for a couple of days. It would be a good place to come back to after scouting the hills for the best way into the sierra and Gold night,

Lake.

She walked around the

silo carefully,

looking for the

FALSE

DAWN

door and for the farmhouse

The farmhouse turned out

it

221

had once belonged

to.

be a charred shell. The was the only thing left standing where once there had been a house, chicken coops and a barn. She shook her head and swung the door open. In the next instant she was reeling back. "Stupid, stupid!" she said aloud. "Stupid." For there was a man in the silo, waving something at her. She started to run, angry and frustrated. to

silo

"No! No!" the voice followed her. "Don't run away! Wait!" It got louder. "That's my arm!" Thea stopped. His arm. "What?" she yelled back. "It's

my

arm. They cut

it off."

The words made

a

weird echo in the corrugated walls of the silo. "Last week." She started back toward the sound. "Who did?" "The Pirates. In Chico." He was getting weaker, and his words came irregularly. "I got this far." She stood in the doorway looking down at him. "Why'd you keep it?" He drew in a breath. "They were looking for a man with only one arm. So I sewed this in my jacket. I can't get any further without help," he finished. "Well, you better bury it," she told him, casting a glance at the thing.

He met her eyes.

"I can't."

Thea looked him over

carefully.

He was

ten, fifteen

years older than she was, with a stocky body

made

was gaunt with hunger and pain. His deeply lined and grimy. The clothes he wore were torn and filthy, but had once been expensive, she could tell. "How long you been here?" she asked him. wide face

"I

think three days."

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO "Oh." right.

From

the state of the

She pointed

arm

222

that

"How

to the stump.

was about

does

it

feel?

Infected?"

He

frowned.

She accepted

Not much. It itches." the moment. "Where were you think

"I don't

this for

so.

going? You got a place to go?"

was tr)'ing to get into the mountains." Thea considered, and her first impulse was

"I

man

to run,

happened. But she hesitated. Gold Lake was a long way away, and getting there would be hard. "I got medicine," she said, making up her mind. "You can have some of it. Not all, 'cause it's mine and I might need it. But you can have a little." He looked at her, his rumpled face puzzled. "Thank you," he said, unused to the words. to leave this

to rot or live as

"I got parapenicillin

and a

it

little

sporomicin.

Which

one do you want?"

"The

penicillin."

"I got

some ascorbic

tablets for later," she added,

arm as she came into the silo. There had been infection, but it was clearing and the skin was the tawny-orange color looking thoughtfully at the stump of his

of regenerating tissue.

"You left-handed?"

"Yes."

"You're luckv."

After releasing the crossbow and storing the quarrel,

she shrugged out of her pack, putting

it

down

man. He still had one good arm and he had admitted he was left-handed. "What's your name?" she asked as she dug into the

carefully, not too close to the

bag.

"Seth Pearson," he said with slight hesitation.

She looked at him sharply. your neck tags. Which is it?"

"It says

David Rossi on

FALSE "It doesn't matter.

it,

DAWN

223

Whichever one you hke."

Thea looked away. "Okay. Rossi." She handed him a

That's the

packet,

way

we'll

worn but

"That's the penicillin. You'll have to eat

it, I

do

intact.

don't have

any needles." Then she added, "It tastes terrible. Here." She handed him a short, flat stick of jerky. "Venison and tough. It'll take the taste away." She put her pack between them and sat on the floor. When the man had managed to choke down the white slime, she said, "Tomorrow I'm going east. You can come with me if you can keep up. There's one more bad river ahead, and you might have to swim it. It's rocky and fast. So you better make up your mind tonight." Then she took two more pieces of jerky out of her pack and ate them in a guarded silence.

The north wind bit through them as they walked; the sun was bright but cold. The gentle slope grew gradually steeper and they climbed more slowly, saying nothing and keeping wary eyes on the bushes that littered the slopes. By midafternoon they were walking over the crumbling hunks of large pine trees that had fallen, victims of smog. The dust from the dead blew in plumes around them, stinging their eyes and making them sneeze. Yet still they climbed. The going got slower and slower until they called a halt in the lee of a huge stump. Rossi braced his good shoulder and held out his tattered jacket to protect them from the wind. "Are you all right?" Thea asked him when she had caught her breath. "You're the wrong color."

trees

"Just a

little

winded."

He

nodded. "I'm

.

still

"Yeah," she said, looking covertly at his stump.

The

.

.

weak." color

was deepening. "You're getting

better."

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO

224

suddenly on the rolling dust and he grabbed out to her to keep from falling. She stepped back. "Don't do that." As he regained his footing, he looked at her in some surprise. "Why?" he asked gently. "Don't you touch me." She grabbed at her crossbow His feet

slid

defensively.

He

frowned,

his

eyes

troubled,

cleared. "I won't." In those

understanding.

He knew

then

his

brow

two words he had great Thea lived in

the world that

as well as she did.

With a look

of defiance she tightened the crossbow's

on her arm, never taking her eyes from the man. can shoot this real fast, Rossi. Remember that." Whatever he might have said was lost. "Hold it right there," came the voice from behind them. Aside from the exchange of quick, frightened glances, they did not move. "That's right." There was a puff of dust, and another, then a young man in a ruined CD uniform stood in front of them, a rifle cradled in his arms. "I knew I'd catch you," he said aloud to himself. "I been following you all morning." straps

"I

Thea edged closer to Rossi. "You people come out from Chico, bounced the weapon he carried.

right?"

He

"No."

"What about you?" he demanded

of Thea.

"No."

He looked back toward Rossi, an unpleasant smile on his face. "What about vou Rossi, is it? Sure you didn't come through Chico? I heard a guy named Rossi was killed outside Orland." .

"I don't

know about

.

.

that."

"They said he was trying

to save

Montague when

FALSE

Cox took

over.

DAWN

225

You know anything about

that? Rossi?"

"No."

The younger man laughed. "Hey, me, Rossi. You lie to me and I'm going In the shadow, Thea slowly put a crossbow, keeping as "You're going to

matter

if

we

much

kill

lie?" Rossi

"Listen," the

don't

quarrel into her

out of sight as she could.

why

does

it

asking.

CD man began.

looking squarely at Thea.

lie to

to kill you."

us anyway, so

was

you

"What's that?" he

"What

are you doing?"

said,

And

grabbing her by the arm and jerking her her feet. "You bitch-piece!" He kicked savagely into her shoulder, just once. Then Rossi put himself betw^een them. "Move!" "No. You want me to move, you'll have to kill me." He said to Thea, without turning, "Did he hurt you?" "Some," she admitted. "I'll be okay." "She your woman? Is she?" Rossi rose slowly, forcing the man with the rifle to move back. "No. She's nobody's woman." At that the other man giggled. "I bet she needs it. I

he reached

out,

off

bet she's real hungry for

it."

Thea closed her eyes to hide the indignation in her. was to be rape, being used She opened her eyes when Rossi's hand touched her shoulder. "You try any more dumb things like that, cunt, and If this

that's

.

.

.

going to be the end. Understand?"

mumbled. "And what will Cox say when he

"Yes," she

finds out

what

you're doing?" Rossi asked.

"Cox won't say nothing!" the CD man spat. "So you deserted." Rossi nodded at the guilt in the man's face. "That was stupid." "You shut up!" He leaned toward them. "You are going to take me out of here, wherever you're going. If

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO anybody spots

make both

of

that?

HUH?"

.

.

.

we

us, or

you look

get trapped,

like a

226

I

am

going to

butcher shop. You got

"You stink," said Thea. For a moment there was anger in the young, hard eyes, then he grabbed her face with one hand. "Not yet, not yet." His grip tightened. "You want some of that, you're gonna have to beg for it, real hard. You're gonna have to suck it out of me. Right?" He looked defiantly at Rossi. "Right?" he repeated. "Let her go."

"You want her?" "Leave her alone." "All right," he said with a little nod. He stepped back from her. "Later, huh? When you've thought it over."

Rossi looked at the

CD

man.

"I'll

be

close,

Thea.

Just call."

As the two men stared at each other, Thea wanted run from both of them, to the protection of the destroyed forest. But she could not escape on an open hillside. She rubbed her shoulder gingerly and went to to

Rossi's side.

"I'm a better choice," the

CD man

mocked

her.

"My

name's Lastly. You can call me that, bitch-piece. Don't me anything else." She said nothing as she looked up the hillside.

call

Rossi's voice

was

cover up ahead and

With deep

soft.

I'll

surprise

get

"Don't

him

tr\^

it

now. There's

into a fight."

she turned to him.

"Truly?

You'd do that?" He would have gone on, but Lastly shoved them apart. "I don't want none of that. You don't whisper w^hen I'm around, hear? You got anything to say, you speak up."

FALSE "I

wanted

DAWN

227

to piss," said Rossi.

You

Lastly giggled again. "Oh, no. Not for a while. aren't

gonna leave a

With

trail.

Got that?"

a shrug Rossi led the long walk toward the

trees.

"What was

that?" Lastly turned the barrel of his

gun toward the sound that surged through the underbrush.

The and

ululation rose

and

fell

through the

trees, lonely

terrible.

"Dogs," said Rossi bluntly. "They're hunting."

In the deep shadows of dusk the scattered trees

seemed

to

people

who

grow

surrounding the three moved through the gloom. The sound together,

came again, closer and sharper. "Where are they?" Thea looked back at him. "A ways shoot them until they get close."

"We "Right?

off yet.

You

can't

got to get out of here," Lastly said in fear.

We got to find someplace safe."

Rossi squinted

up

have another hour

at the fading sky. "I'd say

we

yet. After that, we'd better climb

trees."

"But they're rotten," Lastly protested. "They're better than dogs," Rossi reminded him. But Lastly wasn't listening. "There used to be camps around here, didn't there? We got to find them. No dogs gonna come into camp."

"You

fool," said Rossi dispassionately.

"No

talking. I don't

want

to hear

wavered in front of Rossi. "Then you both stop it," Thea put dogs can hear you." All fell silent. In a

moment

it."

Lastly's

in quietly.

gun "The

Rossi said, "Thea's right.

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO

we might

we're quiet,

If

find

228

one of your camps

in

time."

"You

moving,

get

Lastly

then,"

said

hurriedly.

"Right now."

had been a summer cabin once, when people still had summer cabins. The view below it had been of It

pine forests giving valley.

Now

it

way

stood in

swath of the a clearing surrounded by rotto the fertile

above the spreading contamination of the river. Oddly enough the windows were still intact. "We can stay here," Rossi said after circling the cabin. "The back porch is screened and we can get the door off its hinges." "We can get through the window," Lastly said ting trees,

eagerly. "If in,

it's

Rossi

When

broken, so can the dogs."

went

on.

"The back

this

secure. We'll

is

had sunk

be able

to

protect ourselves."

"You two get it done," Lastly ordered, pointing the rifle toward the rear porch. "Get it done fast." As Thea and Rossi struggled with the door, Lastly straddled the remains of a picket fence. "Sav, you see

what Cox did

to that

Mute

in

right off him, hey. Cox, he's

Mutes— just you

Chico? Took the skin

gonna get

rid of all the

wait."

"Yes," said Rossi as he pulled at a rusted hinge.

"Know what? Montague wanted hear about

that, Rossi?

Why

do that? Huh? Why'd any

to save 'em.

You

would someone want

man

real

to

save Mutes?"

Rossi didn't answer. "I

asked you something

.

.

.

Rossi.

"Maybe he thought they were saving."

You

tell

me."

the only ones worth

DAWN

FALSE

"What about

you, bitch-piece?

He bounced on the fence With a look

229

You save a Mute?"

he stroked

as

of pure disgust,

Thea

his

rifle.

said, "J^^*

me,

Lastly. I'm saving me."

"What you saving you "The .

for

me?

I

got something for

."

.

door's off," Rossi interrupted, pulling

"We can

it

aside.

go in now."

Mice had got into the house, eating the dried fruits and flour that had been stored in the ample kitchen. But there were cans left, filled with food Thea could hardly remember. Pots and pans hung on the wall, mostly rusty, but a few made of enamelware and ready for use. The stove was a wood-burner. "Look at it," Rossi said, his eyes lingering on the cupboards and their precious contents. "Enough to take with us for later."

"Damn, it's perfect. I'm gonna have it right tonight. Hot food, and a bath and all the ways I want it." He glanced slyly from Rossi to Thea. "Smoke might bring the Pirates," said Rossi with a sour smile. "Have you thought of that?" "It's

nighttime, Rossi.

They

ain't

coming up here

till

morning."

Thea had wandered around the wood, anyway. That table

is

kitchen. "There's no

plastic."

moment, then Lastly announced, "You heard the lady, Rossi. There's no wood. You gonna get it for her, right? Right?" "I'll go," said Thea quickly.

They

all

stood for

a

"Oh, no." "But he can't work with one arm." "If he takes his time, bitch-piece." "What about you, Lastly?" Rossi asked "You're able and you've got the gun."

evenly.

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO

230

"And let you two lock me out with the dogs? I ain't dumb, Rossi." He moved around the table. "It's you, Rossi. You're it." He shoved a chair at him. "Catch your breath, 'cause \ou're going out there." "Not without Thea."

made

Last!)'

his

now

familiar giggle.

"Want

it

for

yourself, huh? She ain't putting it out to you. She wants a man. Not you." Thea gave Rossi a pleading look. "Let me lock myself in the side room. Tlien both of \ ou can go."

"Right!" said Lastly unexpectedly. "The bitch-piece is

right.

We lock her up

"If that's

and we get the wood. Rossi?"

what you want, Thea."

She nodded. "Yes." "I'll see you later?" he asked

her, his

deep eyes on

hers. "I

hope

"Come

so,"

she answered.

We're going to lock you up." He took her by the arm, half dragging her through the main room of the cabin to the side room. "There you are," he said, thrusting her inside. "Your own boudoir. You keep nice and warm while )'0u wait." And he slammed the door. There was a distinct sound as Thea pushed the lock home. She sat in the bedroom, huddled on the bare mattress in the center of the room, listening for the sound of the men. She had wanted to run from them, but she felt tired and helpless now. As time passed, she slumped and slid until she stretched on the bed, on, bitch-piece.

asleep.

"You were supposed

to get ready. I told

you

readv," said the harsh voice above her. "You

to get

knew

I'd

be back." She was pulled roughly onto her back and pinned there by a sudden weight across her body.

FALSE

DAWN

231

Barely awake, Thea pushed against the man, hands

and

feet seeking vulnerable places.

"Shut UP!" Lastly across her face.

"You

growled,

When Thea

listen, cunt;

his

hand slamming

cried out, he hit her again.

You think I'm letting Montague get you? Huh?" He

you're for me.

a Mute-fucker like

struck her arms back, catching her wrists in a length

"We taught him and his pervs a lesson at You hear?" He pulled the rope taut against the

of rope.

Chico.

bed slats. "This time I'm getting mine. Right?" With a sob of pure fury Thea launched herself at Lastly, teeth bared and legs twisting. "No, you don't." Lastly giggled. This time his fist caught her on the side of the head and she fell back, dizzy and sick. "Don't give me a hard time, cunt. It makes it worse for you." Rope looped her left ankle and then her right, to be tied under the mattress. Angrily Thea pulled at the ropes. "Don't," Lastly said, coming near her. "You do that any more and I'm going to hurt you. See this?" He put a small knife up close to her face. "I got it in the kitchen. It's real sharp. You give me any more trouble and I'm gonna carve you up some, till you learn some manners." "No."

Ignoring

this.

Lastly began to cut off her jacket.

When

he had ripped that from her, he slit the seams on her leather pants. As he pulled these away, she

twisted in the ropes.

Immediately he was across her. "I told you." He put the knife to her, catching one nipple between the blade and his thumb. "I could peel this off, you know?"

He

pressed harder.

noise, cunt.

The

You be quiet

knife bit into her flesh. or

I

take

it all off."

"No

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO

232

In the sudden sharp pain the nictitating

membranes

closed over her eyes.

And Lastly saw. "Mute! Shit! You lousy Mute!" There was something like triumph in his voice. She cried out as he pulled the wrinkled bit of flesh from her. Blood spread over her breast. With a shout Lastly wiggled his pants down to his knees and in one quick movement pushed into her. Forcing himself deeper, laughing, he said, "Montague's Mute! I'm gonna ruin you." Falling forward, he fastened his teeth on her sound breast. At that she screamed. He brought his head up. "You do that again, Mute, and this one comes off with my teeth." He hit her in the mouth as he came. In the next moment he was off her, torn out of her and slammed against the wall. !" Rossi, his hand in Lastly 's hair, "You filthy hit him into the wall again. There was an audible crack and Lastly slumped. Then he came back to the bed. "Oh, God, Thea," he said softl\'. "I never meant it to be like this." He knelt .

.

.

beside her, not touching her. "I'm sorry." It was as if he were apologizing for the world. Gently he untied her, speaking to her as

huddled on the bed

he

did.

When

in silent tears

he freed her, she which shook her

wholly.

shame in her eyes. "I wanted you. I wanted you," she said and turned away. In wonder he rose. "I have one arm and a price on Finally she turned to him,

my head." "I

wanted \ou," she said

again, not daring to look at

him.

"My name," he said very quietly, "is Evan MonAnd he waited, looking away from her.

tague."

Then he

felt

her hand on

his. "I

wanted you."

FALSE

DAWN

233

He

turned to her, holding her hand, not daring to touch her. She drew him down beside her, but pulled back from him. "He hurt me," she said numbly.

"Here

I tried to

save everybody and couldn't even

save you," he whispered bitterly.

He

looked at her, at

her bloody breasts and bruised face, at the deep

on her

scratches

thighs.

"Let

me

get

your medi-

cine ..."

"No." She grabbed at his hand frantically. "Don't leave me."

With what might have been a smile he her hand while she shivered and the blood

sat

holding

dried, until

they heard the sound of engines, like a distant hive.

"They're looking for him.

She nodded. "Do

we have

Or me," Montague

said.

to leave?"

"Yes." "If

we

stay?"

And you are me. Not you, though a mutant, aren't you?" She understood and shook spasmodically. "Don't let them. Kill me. Kill me. Please." The terror in her face alarmed him. He pulled her fingers to his lips, kissing them. "I will. I promise, Thea." Then he changed. "No. We're getting out of here. We're going to live as long as we can." "They'll

Sighing,

kill

.

.

.

Lastly collapsed, his head at a strange

angle.

"Come

Montague said. With an effort Thea rose to her feet, holding on to his arm until the dizziness passed. "I need clothes." He looked about the room, to the dresser that was encircled with ropes. "There?" he asked, going to it and pulling the drawers. The clothes were for children, but Thea was small enough to wear some of them. With on,"

determination she struggled into heavy canvas jeans.

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO but balked at a sweater or jacket.

234

"I

can't,"

she

whispered. "Shush," he said.

They heard the sounds

of the

motors getting nearer. "What time is it?" she asked. "Early. It's gray in the east." ." "We've got to go. My pack "Leave it," he said brusquely. "Neither you nor I can carry it." ." "My crossbow "In the kitchen. Put it on my arm. If you load it, I can fire." He bundled a jacket under his arm. "You'll want this later." The engines grew louder. "I thought that was the way," Montague said ironically. "I was a fool." He went to the window and opened it. "This way. And .

.

.

.

straight into the trees."

"Evan!" she called as the cold morning the raw places on her breast. "Evan!"

"Can you make it? You've got came to her side. "Yes. But slowly." "All right."

He

to,"

air

brushed

he said as he

took her hand, feeling her fingers

and the crossbow warm

in the

morning

cold. "We'll go

slowly for a while."

As they climbed away

and the grew loud behind them, shutting out the noise of their escape and sending the wild dogs howling away from them into the cold gray light before dawn. into the dying forest

dark, the sounds of the engines

MOBODV*S JOANNA RUSS Joanna Russ grew up in New York City and attended Cornell University, where she received her B.A. in English Literature, and Yale University, where she studied playwriting and received her M.A. Her stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and the anthologies Orbit, Quark, That New Improved Sun, Final Stage, Again Dangerous Visions and Aurora: Beyond Equality. She is the author of two novels, And Chaos Died and Picnic on Paradise (both published by Ace Books). Her short story "When It Changed" won a Nebula Award in 1973. She is Assistant Professor of English at Harpur College, State University of New York at Binghamton. "Nobody's

Home"

takes place in a future world

which

has developed a system able to transport a person in-

Human society has development; the people in this story live in a Utopian world without scarcity and with a great deal of freedom. Societal and family structures have changed as well, but certain problems still remain. stantaneously to any place on the earth.

been transformed by

this

work at the North Pole, Jannina came down to the Red Sea refineries, where she had family business, jumped to New Delhi for dinner, took a nap in a public hotel in Queensland,

After she had finished her

walked from the hotel to the station, by-passed the Leeward Islands (where she thought she might go, 235

JOANNA RUSS but

236

the stations were busy), and met Charley to

all

watch the dawn over the Carolinas. "Where' ve you been, dear C?" "Tanzania.

And you're

married."

"No."

heard you were married," he said. "The Lees told the Smiths who told the Kerguelens who told the Utsumbes, and we get around, we Utsumbes. A new "I

wife, they said.

I

didn't

know you were

especially

And

we're not

fond of women." "I'm not. She's

married

yet,

my

husbands' wife.

Charley. She's had hard luck.

family started in

'35,

A

first

two husbands burned out by an

overload while arranging transportation for a concert —of all things, pushing papers, you know!— and the

second divorced her, I think, and she drifted away from the third ( a big one ) and there was some awful quarrel with the fourth, people chasing people around tables, I don't know." "Poor woman." In the manner of people joking and talking lightly they had draun together, back to back, sitting on the ground and rubbing their shoulders and the backs of their heads together. Jannina said sorrowfully, "What lovely hair you have, Charley Utsumbe, like metal mesh." ,

"All

we Utsumbes

are exceedingly handsome."

They

arms. The sun, which anyone could chase around the world now, see it rise or set twenty times a day, fifty times a day— if you wanted to spend your life like that— rose dripping out of the cvpress swamp. There was nobodv around for miles. Mist drifted up from the pools and low places. "My God," he said, "it's summer! I have to be at Tanga now." linked

NOBODY'S

HOME

237

"What?" said Jannina. "One loses track," he said apologetically. "I'm sorry, love, but I have unavoidable business at home. Tax labor."

"But

why summer, why

"Train of thought!

did

its

being summer

." .

.

Too complicated." And already

they were out of key, already the mild affair was over, there having

come between them the one

that can't be put off to the time

you

like;

mender

mend

off

like, or

the place

he'd go to plug himself into a road-

or a doctor, though

all

you

obligation

it's

of

some advantage

to

the roads of a continent at one time.

on the station platform, watching him enter the booth and set the dial. He stuck his head out the glass door. "Come with me to Africa,

She

sat cross-legged

lovely lady!"

She thumbed her nose ing fancy, Charley U!"

at him. "You're only a pass-

He blew

a

kiss,

himself in the booth, and disappeared.

matter

field

is

larger than

reasons; the booth flicks on

the booth,

and

enclosed

(The for

off several

trans-

obvious million

times a second and so does not get transported

itself,

but it protects the machinery from the weather and it keeps people from losing elbows or knees or slicing the ends off a package or a child. The booths at the cryogenics center at the North Pole have exchanged air so often with those of warmer regions that each has its

own

microclimate; leaves and seeds, plants and

earth are piled about them.

The

notes pinned to the

Don't Step on the Grass! Wish to Trade Pawlownia Sapling for Sub-Arctic Canadian Moss; Watch Your Goddamn Bare Six-Toed Feet! Wish Amateur Cellist for Quartet, Six Months' Rehearsal

door

said.

Late Uhl with Reciter; I Lost a Squirrel Here Yesterday, Can You Find It Before It Dies? Eight Children

JOANNA RUSS

238

Will Be Heartbroken— Cecilia Ching, Buenos Aires.) Jannina sighed and slipped on her glass woolly; nasty to get back into clothes, but

home was

cold.

You

never knew where you might go, so you carried them. ( she thought ) I came here with someone in the dead of winter, either an unmatched man or some-

Years ago

spouse— only two of us, at any rate— and we waded through the freezing water and danced as hard as we could and then proved we could sing and drink beer in a swamp at the same time, Good Lord! And then went to the public resort on the He de la Cite to watch professional plays, opera, games— you have to be good to get in there!— and got into some clothes because it was chilly after sundown in September—no, wait, it was Venezuela—and watched the lights come out and smoked like mad at a cafe table and tickled the robot waiter and pretended we were old, really old, perhaps a hundred and fifty one's starting

.

.

.

Years ago!

But was

it

the

same place? she thought, and

dis-

missing the incident forever, she stepped into the

HimaThe branch stop was

booth, shut the door, and dialed home:

the

The trunk line was clear. clear. The family's transceiver (located in the anteroom behind two doors, to keep the task of heating the house within reasonable limits) had damn well better be clear, or somebody would be blown right into the vestibule. Momentum- and heat-compensators

layas.

kept Jannina from arriving home at seventy degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature (seven degrees lost

you teleport upward) or too many

for every mile

above herself

(

rise to

feet

the east, drop going west; to the

north or south you are apt to be thrown right through the wall of the booth). Someday (thought Jannina)

NOBODY'S

HOME

239

everybody will decide to let everybody live in decent climates. But not yet. Not this everybody. She arrived home singing "The World's My Back Yard, Yes, the World Is My Oyster," a song that had been popular in her first youth, some seventy years before.

The Komarovs' house was hardened foam with an automatic inside line to the school near Naples. It was good to be brought up on your own feet. Jannina passed through; the seven-year-olds lay with their heads together and their bodies radiating in a sixperson asterisk. In this position (which was supposed

promote mystical thought) they played Barufaldi, the identity of famous dead personages through anagrammatic sentences, the first letters of the words of which (unscrambled into aphorisms or proverbs) simultaneously spelled out a moral and a series of Goedel numbers (in a previously agreedupon code ) which "Oh, my darling, how felicitous is the advent of your appearance!" cried a boy (hard to take, the polysyllabic stage). "Embrace me, dearest maternal parent! Unite your valuable upper limbs about my

to

guessing

.

.

.

eager person!" "Vulgar!" said Jannina, laughing.

"Non sum

filius

"No, you're not

tuusF' said the child.

my

body-child. You're

my

godchild.

Your mother bequeathed me to you when she died. What are you learning?" "The eternal parental question," he said, frowning. "How to run a helicopter. How to prepare food from its actual, revolting, raw constituents. Can I go now?" "Can you?" she said. "Nasty imp!"

)

JOANNA RUSS "Good," he

said. "I've

240

made you

feel guilty.

Don't

and as she tried to embrace him, he ticklishly slid away. "The robin walks quietly up the branch of the tree," he said breathlessly, flopping back on the

do

that,"

floor.

"That's

not

an

aphorism."

(Another

Barufaldi

player. It IS. It isn

It

t.

IS.

It isn

t.

"Itis."

"It-"

The

school vanished; the antechamber appeared. In

the kitchen Chi

Komarov was rubbing

the naked back

of his sixteen-) ear-old son. Parents always kissed each

She touched foreheads with the two men and hung her woolly on the hook by the ham radio rig. Someone was always other; children always kissed each other.

around.

Jannina flipped the cover off her wrist chronometer: standard regional time, date, latitudelongitude, family computer hookup clear. "At m\- age I ought to remember these things," she said. She pressed the computer hookup: Ann at tax labor in the schools, bit-a-month plan, regular

months Paris,

Ann; Lee with three

to go, five years off, heroic Lee;

still

Phuong

in

rehearsing; C.E. gone, won't say where,

spontaneous C.E.; Use making some repairs in the basement, not a true basement, but the room farthest down the hillside. She went up the stairs and then

came down and put her head around at the living-andswimming room. Through the glass wall one could see the mountains. Old Al, who had joined them late in life, did a bit of gardening in the brief summers, and generally stuck around the place. Jannina beamed.

)

NOBODY'S "Hullo,

Old

white body

She

241

and shaggy, a rare delight, his on his lap. "Has she come?"

Al!" Big

hair.

HOME

sat

"The new one? No," he said. "Shall we go swimming?" He made an expressive face. "No, dear," he said, "rd rather go to Naples and watch the children fly helicopters. I'd rather go to Nevada and fly them myself. I've been in the water all day, watching a very dull person restructure coral reefs and experiment with polyploid polyps."

"You mean you were doing

"One

gets into the habit of working."

"But you didn't have "It

it."

was a private

to!"

project.

Most

interesting things

are.

She whispered

in his ear.

With happily flushed faces, they went inner garden and locked the door.

into

Old

Al's

Jannina, temporary family representative, threw the

computer helmet over her head and, thus plugged in, she cleaned house, checked food supplies, did a little of the legal business entailed by a family of eighteen adults (two triplet marriages, a quad, and a group of eight ) She felt very smug. She put herself through by radio to Himalayan HQ ( above two thousand meters and hooking computer to computer— a very odd feeling, like an urge to sneeze that never comes off— extended a formal invitation to one Leslie Smith .

("Come stay, why don't you?"), notifying every free Komarov to hop it back and fast. Six hikers might come for the night— back-packers. More food. First thunderstorm of the year in Albany, New York ( North America). Need an extra two rooms by Thursday. Hear the Palnatoki are moving. Can't use a room.

JOANNA RUSS Can't use a kitten.

Adam,

Chile.

The

Need

best

242

the geraniums back, Mrs.

maker

of

hand-blown

glass in

maker the movement toward

the world has killed in a duel the second-best of

hand-blown

ceramics.

A

glass for joining

bitter struggle

is

foreseen in the global

economy. Need a lighting designer. Need fifteen singers and electric pansensicon. Standby tax labor xxxxxpj through xxx\'q to Cambaluc, great tectogenic— With the guilty feeling that one always gets gossiping with a computer, for it's really not reciprocal, Jannina flipped off the helmet. She went to get Use. Climbing back through the white foam room, the purple foam room, the green foam room, everything littered with plots and projects of the clever Komarovs or the even cleverer Komarov children, stopping at the baby room for Use to nurse her baby, Jannina danced staidly around studious Use. They turned on the nursery robot and the television screen. Use drank beer in the swimming room, for her milk. She worried her wa\' through the day's record of events— faults in the foundation, some people who came from Chichester and couldn't find C.E. so one of them burst into tears, a new experiment in genetics coming around the gossip circuit, an execrable set of equations from some imposter in Bucharest.

"A duel!"

said Jannina.

They both agreed it was shocking. And what fun. A new fashion. You had to be a little mad to do it. Awful.

The

light

went on over the door

to the tunnel that

antechamber, and very quickly, one after another, as if the branch line had just come free, eight Komarovs came into the room. The light flashed again; one could see three people debouch one after the other, persons in boots, with

linked

the

house

to

the

NOBODY'S

HOME

243

packs and face masks over their woollies. They were covered with snow, either from the mountain terraces above the house or from some other place, coats,

Jannina didn't know. They stamped the snow oif in the antechamber and hung their clothes outside. "Good heavens, you're not circumcised!" cried some-

was as much handshaking and embracing around as at a wedding party. Velet Komarov (the short, dark one) recognized Fung Pao-Yu and swung her off her feet. People began to joke, tentatively stroking one another's arms. "Did you have a good hike? Are you a good hiker, Pao-Yu?" said Velet. The light over the antechamber went on again, though nobody could see a thing, since the glass was steamed over from the collision of hot with cold air. Old AI stopped, halfway into the kitchen. The baggage receipt chimed, recognized only by family ears— upstairs a bundle of somebody's things, ornaments, probably, for the missing Komarovs were still young and the young are interested in clothing, were appearing in the baggage receptacle. "Ann or Phuong?" said Jannina. "Five to three, anybody? Match me!" but someone strange opened the door of the booth and peered out. Oh, a dizzying sensation. She was painted in a few places, which was awfully odd because really it was old-fashioned; and why do it for a family evening? It was a stocky young woman. It was an awful mistake ( thought Jannina ) Then the visitor made her second mistake. "I'm Leslie Smith," she said. But it was more through clumsiness than being rude. Chi Komarov ( the tall, blond one ) saw this instantly, and snatching off his old-fashioned spectacles, he ran to her side and patted her, saying teasingly, "Now, haven't we met? Now, aren't you married to someone I know?" one. There all

.

JOANNA RUSS

244

"No, no," said Leslie Smith, flushing with pleasure.

He touched

her

neck.

"Ah,

you're

a

tightrope

dancer!"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Leslie Smith.

"Vm

a tightrope dancer," said Chi.

"Would you

believe it?"

"But you're too— too

spiritual,"

said Leslie

Smith

hesitantly. "Spiritual,

how do you

like that, family, spiritual?**

he cried, delighted (a little more delighted, thought Jannina, than the situation really called for), and he

began

to stroke her neck.

"W^at

neck \ou have," he said. This steadied Leslie Smith. She said, men," and allowed herself to look at the family.

was

a lovelv

"Who

like tall

rest of the

are these people?" she said, though one

afraid she might really

Fung Pao-Yu

Who

"I

mean

it.

to the rescue: "WTio are these people?

are they, indeed!

I

doubt

if

they are anybody.

One might say, 1 have met these people,' but has one? What existential meaning would such a statement convey? I myself, now, I have met them. I have been introduced to them. But they are like the Sahara. It is all wrapped in mystery. I doubt if they even have names," etc. etc. Then lank}' Chi Komarov disputed possession of Leslie Smith with Fung Pao-Yu, and Fung Pao-Yu grabbed one arm and Chi the other; and she jumped up and down fiercely; so that by the time the lights dimmed and the food came, people were feeling better— or so Jannina judged. So embarrassing and delightful to be eating fifteen to a room! "We Komarovs are famous for eating whatever we can get whenever we can get it," said Velet proudly. Various Komarovs in various places, with the three hikers on cushions and Use at full length on the rug. Jannina

NOBODY'S

HOME

245

pushed a button with her toe and the fairy Hghts came on all over the ceiling, "The children did that," said Old Al. He had somehow settled at Leslie Smith's side and was feeding her so-chi from his own bowl. She smiled up at him. "We once," said a hiking companion of Fung Pao-Yu's, "arranged a dinner in an amphitheater where half of us played servants to the other half, with forfeits for those who didn't show. It was the result of a bet. Like the bad old days. Did you know there were once five billion people in this world?"

"The

gulls," said Use, "are

Skye." There were

murmurs

mating on the

Isle of

of appreciative interest.

Chi began to develop an erection and everyone laughed. Old Al wanted music and Velet didn't; what might have been a quarrel was ended by Use's furiously boxing their ears. She stalked off to the nursery. "Leslie Smith and I are both old-fashioned," said Old Al, "because neither of us believes in gabbing. Chi— your theater?" "We're turning people away." He leaned forward earnestly, tapping his fingers on his crossed knees. "I swear, some of them are threatening to commit suicide." "It's

a choice," said Velet reasonably.

Leslie Smith it

had dropped her bowl. They retrieved

for her.

remember—" said Pao-Yu. "What ber! We've been eating dried mush for three issue. Did you know one of my dads killed "Aiy,

I

I

remem-

days, taxhimself?*'

"No!" said Velet, surprised. "Years ago," said Pao-Yu. to see the time

when

"He

chairs

said he refused to were reintroduced.

live

He

wanted further genetic engineering, I believe, for even more intelligence. He did it out of spite, I'm sure. also

JOANNA RUSS I

246

think he wrestled a shark. Jannina,

food?

this year's st\ le tax-issue

Is it

is

this tax-issue

sauce?"

"No, next year's," said Jannina snappishly. Really, some people! She slipped into Finnish, to show up PaoYu's pronunciation. "Isn't that so?" she asked Leslie

Smith. Leslie Smith stared at her.

More

them all, in FinKomarovs had withdrawn their membership in a food group, except for Ann, who had taken out an individual, because what the dickens, who had the time? And tax-issue won't kill you. As the\' finished, the\' dropped their dishes into the garbage field and Velet stripped a layer off the rug. In that went, too. Indulgently Old Al began a round: charitably Jannina informed

nish, that the

"Red." "Sun," said Pao-Yu.

"The Red Sun Is," said one of the triplet Komarovs. "The Red Sun Is— High," said Chi. "The Red Sun Is High, The," Velet said. "The Red Sun Is High, The Blue—" Jannina finished. The\' had come to Leslie Smith, who could either complete it or keep it going. She chose to declare for complete, not shyly

(

as before

by pointing to Old Al. "The red sun is high, the blue," he

)

but simply

said. "Subtle!

Another: Ching."

"Ching "Ching

bsu It

can't

nil ch'i." nil ch'i

wo

cKu!'

yu.

had got back do

that."

to Leslie

Smith again. She

said, "I

NOBODY'S

HOME

247

Jannina got up and began to dance— I'm nice in nasty way, she thought.

The

others

my

wandered toward

the pool and Use reappeared on the nursery monitor screen, saying, "I'm

Somebody ii-r-i'

rive A.M.

"I

think

I

said,

coming down."

"What time

is it

in the Argentine?"

"

want

to go."

"Go, then." I go-

"Go well." The red light over the antechamber door flashed and went out. "Say, why'd you leave your other family?" said Use, settling near Old Al where the wall curved out. Ann, for whom it was evening, would be home soon; Chi, who had just got up a few hours back in western America, would stay somewhat longer; nobody ever knew Old Al's schedule and Jannina herself had lost track of the time. She would stay up until she felt She followed a rough twenty-eight-hour day, Phuong (what a nuisance that must be at rehearsals!) a twenty-two-hour one, Use six hours up, six hours dozing. Jannina nodded, heard the question, and shook herself awake. "I didn't leave them. They left me." There was a murmur of sympathy around the pool. "They left me because I was stupid," said Leslie Smith. Her hands were clasped passively in her lap. She looked very genteel in her blue body paint, a stocky young woman with small breasts. One of the triplet Komarovs, flirting in the pool with the other two, choked. The nonaquatic members of the family crowded around Leslie Smith, touching her with little, soft touches; they kissed her and exposed to her all their unguarded surfaces, their bellies, their soft skins.

sleepy.

JOANNA RUSS

248

Old Al kissed her hands. She sat moved. "But I am stupid," she said.

there,

oddly un-

"You'll find out."

Jannina put her hands over her ears. "A masochist!" Leslie Smith looked at Jannina with a curious, stolid look. Then she looked down and absently began to rub one blue-painted knee.

"Luggage!" shouted Chi, clapping his hands toand the triplets dashed for the stairs. "No, I'm going to bed," said Leslie Smith, "I'm tired," and quite simply, she got up and let Old Al lead her through the pink room, the blue room, the turtle-and-pet room (temporarily empty), the trash room, and all the other rooms, to the guest room with the view that looked out over the cold hillside to the gether,

terraced plantings below.

"The best maker

of

hand-blown

glass in the world,"

said Chi, "has killed in a duel the second-best of

hand-blown

maker

glass in the world."

"For joining the movement to ceramics," said Use, awed. Jannina felt a thrill: this was the bitter stuff under the surface of life, the fury that boiled up. A

economy.

bitter

struggle

Good

old tax-issue stuff goes toddling along,

after year.

is

foreseen

in

the global

year

She was, thought Jannina, extraordinarily

grateful to be living now, to be in such an extraordi-

nary world, to have so long to go before her death. So

much

to do!

Old Al came back

into the living room. "She's in

bed." "Well, which of us—?" said the triplet-who-had-

choked, looking mischievously around from one to the other.

Chi was about

to volunteer, out of his usual con-

scientiousness, thought Jannina, but then she herself suddenly standing up,

and then

found

just as sud-

NOBODY'S denly sitting

down

HOME

249

again. "I just don't

have the nerve,"

she said.

Komarov walked on

Velet

his

hands toward the

then somersaulted, and vanished, climbing. Old Al got off the hand-carved chest he had been sitting on and fetched a can of ale from it. He levered off the top stairs,

and drank. Then he said, "She really is stupid, you know." Jannina's skin crawled. "Oooh," said Pao-Yu. Chi betook himself to the kitchen and returned with a paper folder. It was coated with frost. He shook it, then impatiently dropped it in the pool. The redheaded triplet swam over and took it. "Smith, Leslie," he said. "Adam Two, Leslie. Yee, Leslie. Schwarzen, Leslie." "What on earth does the woman do with herself besides get married?" exclaimed Pao-Yu. "She drove a hovercraft," said Chi, "in some out-ofthe-way places around the Pacific until the last underground stations were completed. Says when she was a

wanted to drive a truck." "Well, you can," said the redheaded triplet, "can t you? Go to Arizona or the Rockies and drive on the

child she

roads.

The

sixty-mile-an-hour road.

hour road. Great

The

thirty-mile-an-

artistic recreation."

"That's not work," said

Old

Al.

"Couldn't she take care of children?" said the red-

headed

triplet.

Use

sniffed.

much

of a recommendation for see— that," Chi said. "Let's no children. No, of course not. Overfulfilled her tax work on quite a few routine matters here. Kim, Leslie. Went to Moscow and contracted a double with some fellow, didn't last. Registered as a singleton, but that didn't last, either. She said she was lonely, and they were exploiting her." Old Al nodded.

"Stupidity's

not

JOANNA RUSS

250

"Came back and lived informally with a theater group. Left them. Went into psychotherapy. Volunteered for several experimental, intelligence-enhancing

programs, was turned down— hum!— sixty-five come the winter solstice, muscular coordination average, muscular development above average, no overt mental patholog)^

empathy average, prognosis:

wait a minute,

it

says,

poor.

'More of the same.' Well,

No, that's

the same thing.

"What head,

"is

want to know," added Chi, raising his who met Miss Smith and decided we needed I

the lady in this Ice Palace of ours?"

Nobody answered. Jannina was about perhaps?" but as she

felt

to say, "Ann,

the urge to do so— surely

it

wasn't right to turn somebody off like that, just for that!— Chi sier)

came

(who had been

flipping through the dos-

with the tax-issue stamp

to the last page,

woven

absolutely unmistakable,

"The computer

right into the paper.

did," said Pao-Yu,

and she giggled

idiotically,

"Well," said Jannina, jumping to her feet, "tear

my

it

me, and I'll tear it up for you. I think Miss Leslie Smith deserves from us the same as we'd give to anybody else, and I— for oneup,

dear, or give

it

to

intend to go right up there "After Velet," said

Old Al

." .

.

dryly.

"With Velet, if I must," said Jannina, raising her eyebrows, "and if you don't know what's due a guest. Old Daddy, I do, and I intend to provide it. Lucky I'm keeping house this month, or you'd probablv feed the poor woman nothing but seaweed." "You won't like her, Jannina," said Old Al. "I'll find that out for myself," said Jannina with some asperit\% "and I'd advise you to do the same. Let her garden with you. Daddy. Let her squirt the foam

)

HOME

NOBODY'S

new

for the

And now,"

rooms.

251

she glared around at

them, "I'm going to clean this room, so you'd better hop it, the lot of you," and dashing into the kitchen, she had the computer helmet on her head and the hoses going before they had even quite cleared the

Then she took

area of the pool.

the helmet off and

hung

it on the wall. She flipped the cover off her wrist chronometer and satisfied herself as to the date. By the time she got back to the living room there was nobody there, only Leslie Smith's dossier lying on the carved chest. There was Leslie Smith; there was all of Leslie Smith. Jannina knocked on the wall cupboard and it revolved, presenting its openable side; she took out chewing gum. She started chewing and read about

Leslie Smith.

Q:

What have you

seen in the

last

twenty years that

you particularly liked? A:

don't

I

mean

the

seum,

I

Q:

.

.

museum, I guess. At Oslo. I mermaid and the children's mucare if it's a children's museum. .

don't

the

.

.

the

.

Do you like

children?

A: Oh, no. (

No

disgrace in that, certainly, thought Jannina.

Q: But you liked the children's museum. Yes ... I hked those A: Yes, sir .

.

.

mals, the fake ones, in the

.

.

.

the

.

.

little

ani-

.

Q: The creche? A: Yes. And I liked the old things from the past, the murals with the flowers on them, they looked so real.

(Dear God!) Q: You said you were associated with a theater group in Tokyo. Did you like it? A: No yes, I don't know. Were they nice people? Q: A: Oh, yes. They were awfully nice. But they got .

.

.

JOANNA RUSS

mad

at

seem

much other

me,

suppose

I

.

.

.

You

to get things quite right,

the work, because .

.

.

the

little

Q: What do you A: You ...

I

I

things.

think

is

252

see I

.

.

well,

suppose.

do that It's

.

It's

all right,

always

I

don't

not so

but the

like that.

the matter?

think you know.

Jannina flipped through the rest of it: Normal, normal, normal. Miss Smith was as normal as could be. Miss Smith was stupid. Not even very stupid. It

was too damned bad. They'd probably have enough of Leslie Smith in a week, the Komarovs; yes, we'll have enough of her (Jannina thought), never able to catch a joke or a tone of voice, always clumsy, however willing, but never happy, never at ease. You can get a job for her, but what else can you get for her? Jannina glanced

down

at the dossier, already bored.

Q: You say you would have liked to live in the old days. Why is that? Do you think it would have been more adventurous, or would you like to have had lots of children?

A:

I

.

.

.

you have no

right

.

.

.

You're

conde-

scending.

Q: I'm sorry. I suppose you mean to say that then you would have been of above-average intelligence. You would, vou know. A: I know. I looked it up. Don't condescend to me. Well,

too damned bad! Jannina felt tears rise What had the poor woman done? It was

it \jco^

in her eyes.

an accident, that was the horror of it, not even a tragedy, as if everyone's forehead had been stamped with the word "Choose" except for Leslie Smith's. She needs money, thought Jannina, thinking of the bad old days when people did things for money. Nobody just

NOBODY'S

HOME

253

could take to Leslie Smith. She wasn't insane enough to stand for being hurt or exploited. She wasn't clever enough to interest anybody. She certainly wasn't

feebleminded; they couldn't very well put her into a hospital for the feebleminded or the brain-injured; in

was looking at the dossier again) they work there, and she had taken a good, fast swing at the supervisor. She had said the people there were "hideous" and "revolting." She had no particular mechanical aptitudes. She had no particular interests. There was not even anything for her to read or watch; how could there be? She seemed ( back at the dossier ) to spend most of her time either working or going on public tours of exotic places, coral reefs and places like that. She enjoyed aqualung diving, but didn't do it often because that got boring. And that was that. There was, all in all, very little one could do for Leslie Smith. You might even say that in fact (Jannina

had

tried to get her to

her

own

person she represented all the defects of the bad old days. Just imagine a world made up of such creatures! Jannina yawned. She slung the folder away

and padded

into the kitchen. Pity Miss

Smith wasn't

good-looking, also a pity that she was too well bal-

anced

(

the folder said ) to think that cosmetic surgery

would make

that

Leslie, you've got

asleep,

met Ann

much some

sense,

Good

for

you,

anyhow. Jannina,

half-

difference.

in the kitchen, beautiful, slender

Ann

reclining on a cushion with her so-chi and melon. Dear old Ann. Jannina nuzzled her brown shoulder. Ann poked her. "Look," said Ann, and she pulled from the purse she wore at her waist a tiny fragment of cloth, stained

rusty brown.

"What's that?"

JOANNA RUSS maker

"Tlie second-best

254

hand-blown glass— oh,

of

vou know about it— well, this is his blood. When the best maker of hand-blown glass in the world had stabbed to the heart the second-best maker of handblown glass in the world, and cut his throat, too, some small children steeped handkerchiefs in his blood and the\'re sending pieces

"Good God!"

all

over the world."

cried Jannina.

"Don't worry, my dear," said lovely Ann, "it happens every decade or so. The children say they want to bring back cruelty, dirt, disease, glory and hell. Then the\" forget about it. Everv teacher knows that." She sounded amused. "I'm afraid I lost my temper today, though, and walloped your godchild. It's in the family, after

all."

Jannina remembered when she herself had been much \ounger and Annie, barelv a girl, had come to live with them. Ann had pla\ ed at being a child and

had put her head on Jannina's shoulder,

saving, "Jan-

nie, tell me a story." So Jannina now laid her head on Ann's breast and said, "Annie, tell me a storv."

Ann

said,

"I

told

my

children a

stor)'

today,

a

m\ th has to explain how death and suffering came into the world, so that's what this one is about. In the beginning, the first man creation myth. Ever\- creation

and the

first

woman

lived ver\' contentedly on an

island until one day the\^

they called to the turtle send them something to

mango and they

ate

it

began

who

to feel hungry.

So

holds up the world to

The turtle sent them a and were satisfied, but the next eat.

day they were hungr\' again. something to eat.' So the turtle sent them a coffee berr\-. Thev thought it was pretty small, but they ate it anyway and were "'Turtle,' they said, 'send us

NOBODY'S

The

HOME

255

day they called on the turtle again and this time the turtle sent them two things: a banana and a stone. The man and woman did not know which to choose, so they asked the turtle which

satisfied.

they should

third

eat.

'Choose,' said the turtle.

So they

chose the banana and ate that, but they used the stone for a

game

of catch.

Then

the turtle said, 'You should

have chosen the stone. If you had chosen the stone, you would have lived forever, but now that you have chosen the banana. Death and Pain have entered the " world, and it is not I that can stop them.' Jannina was crying. Lying in the arms of her old friend, she wept bitterly, with a burning sensation in her chest and the taste of death and ashes in her mouth. It was awful. It was horrible. She remembered the embryo shark she had seen when she was three, in the Auckland Cetacean Research Center, and how she had cried then. She didn't know what she was crying about. "Don't, don't!" she sobbed.

"Don't

what?"

said

Ann

affectionately.

"Silly

Jannina!" "Don't, don't," cried Jannina, "don't,

it's

true,

it's

and she went on in this way for several more minutes. Death had entered the world. Nobody could stop it. It was ghastly. She did not mind for herself but for others, for her godchild, for instance. He was going to die. He was going to suffer. Nothing could help him. Duel, suicide or old age, it was all the same. "This life!" gasped Jannina. "This awful life!" The thought of death became entwined somehow with Leslie Smith, in bed upstairs, and Jannina began to

true!"

cry afresh, but eventually the thought of Leslie Smith

brought her back to her eyes with her hand. She sat up.

calmed

her. It

herself.

She wiped

JOANNA RUSS

256

"Do vou want

a smoke?" said beautiful Ann, but her head. She began to laugh. Really, shook Jannina the whole thing was quite ridiculous.

"There's

this

Leslie

Smith,"

"We'll have to find a tactful

day and age." And she told lovelv Annie

way

she

said,

to get rid of her.

idiotic, in this

all

dry-eyed.

about

it.

It's

OF MIST

AND QRASS, AND SAND VONDA

MclNTYRE

N.

Vonda N. Mclntyre was bom

in Kentucky and has lived in Maryland, the Netherlands and Massachusetts, New York, Washington. She received her B.S. from the University of Washington with honors and did graduate work in genetics. She has worked as a riding instructor, key-punch operator and as a coordinator of a science-fiction writers' workshop at the University of Washington. Her stories have appeared in Analog, Quark, The Last Dangerous Visions, Orbit,

The Alien Condition, Clarion and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She is coeditor, with Susan Janice Anderson, of Aurora: Beyond Equality (FawcettGold Medal). "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,** which won the 1973 Nebula Award for best novelette, is a vision of a posttechnological world. Its central character is a young woman

who

heals the sick with the aid of three snakes.

speaks to us directly;

we

ing out of fear the tools to use

The

The

story

cannot help ourselves by destroy-

we

need, but must instead learn

and understand them.

boy was frightened. Gently, Snake touched Behind her, three adults stood close together, watching, suspicious, afraid to show their concern with more than narrow Hnes around their eyes. They feared Snake as much as they feared their only little

his hot forehead.

child's death. In the

dimness of the

lamplights gave no reassurance. 257

tent, the flickering

VONDA The

N.

McINTYRE

258

watched with eyes so dark the pupils Snake herself feared for his life. She stroked his hair. It was long and very pale, a striking color against his dark skin, dry and irregular for several inches near the scalp. Had Snake been with these people months ago, she would have known the child was growing ill. "Bring my case, please," Snake said. child

were not

visible, so dull that

The child's parents started at her soft voice. Perhaps they had expected the screech of a bright jay, or the hissing of a shining serpent. This was the first time Snake had spoken in their presence. She had only watched when the three of them had come to observe her from a distance and whisper about her occupation and her youth; she had only listened, and then

nodded, when finally they came to ask her help. Perhaps they had thought she was mute.

young man lifted her leather case. He held the satchel away from his body, leaning to hand it to her, breathing shallowly with nostrils flared

The

fair-haired

against the faint smell of

musk

in the dry desert air.

Snake had almost accustomed herself uneasiness he showed; she

to the kind of

had already seen

it

often.

When

Snake reached out, the young man jerked back and dropped the case. Snake lunged and barely caught it, gently set it on the felt floor, and glanced at him with reproach. His husband and his wife came forward and touched him to ease his fear. "He was bitten once," the dark and handsome woman said. "He almost died." Her tone was not of apology, but of justification.

"I'm sorry," the younger

man

said. "It's—"

He

ges-

tured toward her; he was trembling, and trying visibly

Snake glanced her shoulder, where she had been uncon-

to control the reactions of his fear.

down

at

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

259

weight and movement. A tiny serpent, thin as the finger of a baby, shd himself around her neck to show his narrow head below her short black curls. He probed the air with his trident tongue in a leisurely manner, out, up and down, in, to savor the taste of the smells. "It's only Grass," Snake said. "He cannot harm you." If he were bigger, he might frighten; his color was pale-green, but the scales around his mouth were red, as if he had just feasted sciously

as a

aware of the

mammal

eats,

by

slight

tearing.

He

was, in fact,

much

neater.

whimpered. He cut off the sound of pain; perhaps he had been told that Snake too would be offended by crying. She only felt sorry that his people

The

child

refused themselves such a simple

way

of easing fear.

She turned from the adults, regretting their terror of her, but unwilling to spend the time it would take to convince them their reactions were unjustified. "It's all right," she said to the little boy. "Grass is smooth, and dry, and soft, and if I left him to guard you, even death could not reach your bedside." Grass poured himself into her narrow, dirty hand, and she extended him toward the child. "Gently." He reached out and touched the sleek scales with one fingertip. Snake could sense the effort of even such a simple motion, yet the boy almost smiled. "What are you called?" He looked quickly toward his parents, and finally they nodded. "Stavin," he whispered. He had no strength or breath for speaking. "I

am

Snake, Stavin, and in a

little

while, in the

must hurt you. You may feel a quick pain, and your body will ache for several days, but you will be better afterward." He stared at her solemnly. Snake saw that though morning,

I

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

260

he understood and feared what she might do, he was less afraid than if she had Hed to him. The pain must have increased greatly, as his illness became more

seemed that others had only reassured him, and hoped the disease would disappear or kill him quickly. Snake put Grass on the boy's pillow and pulled her case nearer. The lock opened at her touch. The adults still could only fear her; they had had neither time nor reason to discover any trust. The wife was old enough that they might never have another child, and Snake could tell by their eyes, their covert touching, their concern, that they loved this one very much. They must, to come to Snake in this country. It was night, and cooling. Sluggish, Sand slid out of the case, moving his head, moving his tongue, smelling, tasting, detecting the warmth of bodies. "Is that—?" The older husband's voice was low, and wise, but terrified, and Sand sensed the fear. He drew back into striking position and sounded his rattle apparent, but

it

softly.

Snake spoke, moving her hand, and extended her arm. The pit viper relaxed and flowed around and around her slender wrist to form black and tan bracelets. "No," she said. "Your child is too ill for Sand to help. I know it is hard, but please try to be calm. This is a fearful thing for you, but it is all I can do." She had to annoy Mist to make her come out. Snake rapped on the bag and finally poked her twice. Snake felt the vibration of sliding scales, and suddenly the albino cobra flung herself into the tent. She moved quickly, yet there seemed to be no end to her. She reared back and up. Her breath rushed out in a hiss. Her head rose well over a meter above the floor. She flared her wide hood. Behind her, the adults gasped,

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND as

if

physically assaulted

tacle design

by the gaze

261

of the tan spec-

on the back of Mist's hood. Snake ignored

the people and spoke to the great cobra, focusing her

by her words. "Ah, thou. Furious creature. Lie down; 'tis time for thee to earn thy dinner. Speak to this child, and touch him. He is called Stavin." Slowly, Mist relaxed her hood, and allowed Snake to touch her. Snake grasped her firmly behind the head and held her so she looked at Stavin. The cobra's silver eyes picked up the yellow of the lamplight. "Stavin," Snake said, "Mist will only meet you now. I promise that this time she will touch you gently." attention

Still,

Stavin shivered

when Mist touched

his thin

chest. Snake allowed her body to slide against the boy's. The cobra was four times longer than Stavin was tall. She curved herself in stark white loops across his swollen abdomen, extending herself, forcing her head toward the boy's face, straining against Snake's hands. Mist met

did not release the serpent's head, but

Stavin's frightened stare with the gaze of lidless eyes.

Snake allowed her a

little closer.

Mist flicked out her tongue to taste the child.

The younger husband made

a small, cut-off, fright-

ened sound. Stavin flinched at it, and Mist drew back, opening her mouth, exposing her fangs, audibly thrusting her breath through her throat. Snake sat back on her heels, letting out her own breath. Sometimes, in other places, the kinfolk could stay while she worked. "You must leave," she said gently. "It's dangerous to frighten Mist." I

won t—

"I'm sorry.

You must wait

outside."

Perhaps the younger husband, perhaps even the wife, would have made the indefensible objections and asked the answerable questions, but the older

VONDA man

N.

McINTYRE

262

turned them and took their hands and led them

away. "I need a small animal," Snake said as he lifted the tent-flap. "It must have fur, and it must be alive." "One will be found," he said, and the three parents went into the glowing night. Snake could hear their footsteps in the sand outside. Snake supported Mist in her lap and soothed her. The cobra wrapped herself around Snake's narrow waist, taking in her warmth. Hunger made the cobra even more nervous than usual, and she was hungry, as was Snake. Coming across the black sand desert, they but Snake's traps were unsuccessful. The season was summer, the weather was hot, and man\' of the furry tidbits Sand and Mist

had found

suflBcient water,

preferred were estivating. their regular meal,

When

Snake began a

the serpents missed fast as well.

She saw with regret that Stavin was more frightened now. "I am sorry to send your parents away," she said. "Thev can come back soon." His eyes glistened, but he held back the tears. "Thev said to do what vou told me." "I would have you cry, if you are able," Snake said. "It isn't such a terrible thing." But Stavin seemed not to understand, and Snake did not press him; she knew that his people taught themselves to resist a difficult

land by refusing to cry, refusing to mourn, refusing to They denied themselves grief, and allowed themselves little joy, but the\' survived.

laugh.

Mist had calmed to sullenness. Snake unwrapped her from her waist and placed her on the pallet next to Stavin.

As the cobra moved. Snake guided her head,

feeling the tension of the striking muscles. "She will

touch you with her tongue," she told Stavin.

"It

might

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

263

tickle, but it will not hurt. She smells with it, as you do with your nose." "With her tongue?' Snake nodded, smiling, and Mist flicked out her tongue to caress Stavin's cheek. Stavin did not flinch; he watched, his child's delight in knowledge briefly overcoming pain. He lay perfectly still as Mist's long tongue brushed his cheeks, his eyes, his mouth. "She

tastes the sickness,"

Snake

said.

Mist stopped fighting

the restraint of her grasp, and

drew back her head.

on her heels and released the cobra, who spiraled up her arm and laid herself across her

Snake

sat

shoulders.

"Go to sleep, Stavin," Snake said. "Try to trust me, and try not to fear the morning." Stavin gazed at her for a few seconds, searching for truth in Snake's pale eyes. "Will Grass watch?"

She was startled by the question, or rather, by the acceptance behind the question. She brushed his hair from his forehead and smiled a smile that was tears just beneath the surface. "Of course." She picked Grass up. "Thou wilt watch this child, and guard him." The snake lay quiet in her hand, and his eyes glittered black. She laid him gently on Stavin's pillow.

"Now

sleep."

Stavin closed his eyes, and the

out of him.

The

alteration

was

life

seemed

to flow

so great that Snake

reached out to touch him, then saw that he was breathing, slowly, shallowly. She tucked a blanket around him and stood up. The abrupt change in position dizzied her; she staggered and caught herself. Across her shoulders, Mist tensed. Snake's eyes stung and her vision was oversharp, fever-clear. The sound she imagined she heard

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

264

swooped in closer. She steadied herself against hunger and exhaustion, bent slowly and picked up the leather Mist touched her cheek with the tip of her

case.

tongue.

She pushed aside the tent-flap and felt relief that it was still night. She could stand the heat, but the brightness of the sun curled through her, burning. The moon must be full; though the clouds obscured everything, they diffused the light so the sky appeared gray from horizon to horizon. Beyond the tents, groups of formless shadows projected from the ground. Here, near the edge of the desert, enough water existed so clumps and patches of bush grew, providing shelter and sustenance for all manner of creatures. The black sand, which sparkled and blinded in the sunlight, at night was like a layer of soft soot. Snake stepped out of the tent, and the illusion of softness disappeared; her boots slid crunching into the sharp hard grains. Stavin's

family waited, sitting close together be-

tween the dark tents that clustered in a patch of sand from which the bushes had been ripped and burned. They looked at her silently, hoping with their eyes, showing no expression in their faces. A woman somewhat younger than Stavin's mother sat with them. She was dressed, as they were, in a long loose robe, but she wore the only adornment Snake had seen among these people: a leader's circle, hanging around her neck on a leather thong. She and the older husband were marked close kin by their similarities: sharp-cut planes of face, high cheekbones, his hair white and hers graying early from deep-black, their eyes the dark-

brown

best suited for survival in the sun.

ground by

their

feet

a small black

sporadically against a net, shrill

weak

cry.

On

the

animal jerked

and infrequently gave a

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

265

"Stavin is asleep," Snake said. "Do not disturb him, but go to him if he wakes." The wife and young husband rose and went inside, but the older man stopped before her. "Can you help

him?"

hope we may. The tumor seems solid." Her own voice slightly hollow, as if she were "I

advanced, but it sounded removed, lying. "Mist will be is

ready in the morning." She still felt the need to give him reassurance, but she could think of none. "My sister wished to speak with you," he said, and left them alone without introduction, without elevating himself

by saying

woman was

that the tall

the

leader of this group. Snake glanced back, but the tentflap fell shut.

She was feeling her exhaustion more

deeply, and across her shoulders Mist was, for the

first

time, a weight she thought heavy.

"Are you

all

right?"

Snake turned. The natural elegance

woman moved toward

made

slightly

her with a

awkward by advanced

pregnancy. Snake had to look up to meet her gaze. She

had small

fine lines at the corners of

her eyes, as

if

she

laughed, sometimes, in secret. She smiled, but wdth concern. "You seem very tired. Shall

make you

I

have someone

a bed?"

"Not now," Snake

said, "not yet. I

won't sleep until

afterward."

The leader searched her

face,

and Snake

felt a kin-

ship with her in their shared responsibility. "I understand, I think. Is there

give you?

Do you need

anything

we

can

aid with your preparations?"

Snake found herself having to deal with the questions as if they were complex problems. She turned them in her tired mind, examined them, dissected

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

266

them, and

finally grasped their meanings. needs food and water—"

"It

is

taken care

"My pony

of,"

'*And I need someone to help me with Mist. Someone strong. But it's more important that they aren't afraid."

The leader nodded. and smiled again, a late. I will find

"I

little.

would help you," she "But

I

am

said,

a bit clumsy of

someone."

"Thank you." Somber again, the older woman inclined her head and moved slowly toward a small group of tents. Snake watched her go, admiring her grace. She felt small and young and grubby in comparison. Sand began to unwrap himself from her wrist. Feeling the anticipatory slide of scales on her skin, she

caught him before he could drop to the ground. Sand lifted the upper half of his bod\' from her hands. He flicked out his tongue, peering toward the little animal, feeling

thou

art

its

body

heat, smelling

its fear.

"I

hungry," Snake said, "but that creature

know is

not

She put Sand in the case, lifted Mist from her shoulder, and let her coil herself in her dark compartment. for thee."

The small animal shrieked and struggled again Snake's diffuse shadow passed over it. She bent and picked it up. The rapid series of terrified cries

when

slowed and diminished and stroked

it.

Finally

it

lav

stopped as she breathing hard, ex-

finalh'

still,

up at her with yellow eyes. It had long hind legs and wide pointed ears, and its nose twitched at the serpent smell. Its soft black fur was marked off in skewed squares by the cords of the hausted, staring

net. "I

am

sorry to take your

Iffe,"

Snake told

it.

"But

OF

MIST,

AND

GRASS,

AND SAND

267

more fear, and I will not hurt you." She closed her hand gently around it, and stroking it, there will be no

grasped

spine at the base of

its

once, quickly.

It

seemed

already dead.

It

toes curled

stare

up

at her,

skull.

She pulled it was

to struggle briefl\', but

body, and

its

its

convulsed;

its

legs

drew up

against

its

and quivered. It seemed to its body from the

even now. She freed

net.

Snake chose a small vial from her belt pouch, pried open the animal's clenched jaws, and let a single drop of the vial's cloudy preparation fall into

mouth. Quickly she opened the satchel again and called Mist out. The cobra came slowly, slipping over the edge,

hood

its

closed, sliding in the sharp-grained sand.

Her

caught the thin light. She smelled the animal, flowed to it, touched it with her tongue. For a milk\' scales

moment Snake was

would refuse dead meat, but the body was still warm, still twitching reflexively, and she was very hungry. "A tidbit for afraid she

Snake spoke to the cobra, a habit of solitude. "To whet thy appetite." Mist nosed the beast, reared back and struck, sinking her short fixed fangs into the thee."

tiny body,

biting again,

pumping out her

store of

took a better grip, and began to work her jaws around it; it would hardly distend her throat. When Mist lay quiet, digesting the small poison. She released

it,

meal, Snake sat beside her and held her, waiting.

She heard footsteps

in the coarse sand.

"I'm sent to help you."

young man, despite a scatter of white in his black hair. He was taller than Snake and not unattractive. His eyes were dark, and the sharp planes of his face were further hardened because his hair was pulled straight back and tied. His expression was

He was

neutral.

a

"

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

268

"Are you afraid?"

you tell me." Though his form was obscured by his robe, his long fine hands showed strength. "Then hold her body, and don't let her surprise you." Mist was beginning to twitch from the effects of the drugs Snake had put in the small animal. The "I will

do

as

cobra's eyes stared, unseeing. "If

bites-"

it

"Hold, quickly!"

The young man reached, but he had

hesitated too

long. Mist writhed, lashing out, striking

face with her

tail.

He

him

in the

staggered back, at least as sur-

prised as hurt. Snake kept a close grip behind Mist's

jaws and struggled to catch the rest of her as well.

Mist was no constrictor, but she was smooth and fast. Thrashing, she forced out her breath in a long hiss. She would have bitten anything she

strong and

could reach. As Snake fought with her, she managed to squeeze the poison glands and force out the last drops of venom. They hung from Mist's fangs for a

moment, catching

light as jewels

the serpent's convulsions flung

would; the force of

them away

into the

darkness. Snake struggled with the cobra, aided for

once by the sand, on which Mist could get no purchase. Snake felt the young man behind her grabbing

body and

for Mist's

and Mist lay limp "I

am

"Hold

tail.

The

seizure stopped abruptly,

in their hands.

sorrv— her,"

Snake

said.

"We have

the night to go."

second convulsion, the young man held her firmly and was of some real help. Afterward, Snake answered his interrupted question. "If she were making poison and she bit you, you would probably

During

Mist's

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND die.

Even now her

you do something

bite

269

would make you ill. But unless if she manages to bite, she

foolish,

will bite me."

"You would benefit my cousin little, if you were dead or dying." "You misunderstand. Mist cannot kill me." She held out her hand so he could see the white scars of slashes and punctures. He stared at them, and looked into her eyes for a long moment, then looked away. The bright spot in the clouds from which the light radiated moved westward in the sky; they held the cobra like a child. Snake found herself half dozing, but Mist restraint,

moved

her head, dully attempting to evade

and Snake woke

herself abruptly. "I

must

not sleep," she said to the young man, "Talk to me.

What

you called?" As Stavin had, the young man are

afraid of her, or of something.

hesitated.

"My

He seemed

people," he said,

it unwise to speak our names to strangers." you consider me a witch, you should not have asked my aid. I know no magic, and I claim none." "It's not a superstition," he said. "Not as you might think. We're not afraid of being bewitched." "I can't learn all the customs of all the people on this earth, so I keep my own. My custom is to address those I work with by name." Watching him, Snake tried to decipher his expression in the dim light. "Our families know our names, and we exchange names with those we would marry." Snake considered that custom, and thought it would fit badly on her. "No one else? Ever?" "Well ... a friend might know one's name." "Ah," Snake said. "I see. I am still a stranger, and perhaps an enemy." "A friend would know my name," the young man

"think "If

VONDA said again. "I

misunderstand.

N.

McINTYRE

270

would not offend you, but now you

An

acquaintance

is

not a friend.

We

value friendship highly." "In this land one should be able to

person

"We

is

worth calling

take friends

to

if

a

we

is

a great

be feared."

considered that possibility.

betrayal of friendship

quickly

'friend.'

seldom. Friendship

commitment." "It sounds like something

He

tell

"

fear.

That

"Perhaps is

it's

the

a very painful

thing."

"Has anyone ever betrayed you?"

He

glanced at her sharply, as if she had exceeded the limits of propriety. "No," he said, and his voice w^as as hard as his face. "No friend. I have no one I call friend."

His reaction startled Snake. "That's very sad," she

comprehend the deep stresses that could close people off so far, comparing her loneliness of necessity and theirs of choice. "Call me Snake," she said finally, "if you can bring yourself to pronounce it. Saying my name binds you to said,

and grew

silent,

trying to

nothing."

The young man seemed about to speak; perhaps he thought again that he had oflFended her, perhaps he felt he should further defend his customs. But Mist began to twist in their hands, and they had to hold her to keep her from injuring herself. The cobra was slender for her length, but powerful, and the convulsions she went through were more severe than any she had ever had before. She thrashed in Snake's grasp and almost pulled away. She tried to spread her hood, but Snake held her too tightly. She opened her mouth and hissed, but no poison dripped from her fangs.

OF

MIST,

AND

GRASS,

AND SAND

271

She wrapped her tail around the young man's waist. He began to pull her and turn, to extricate himself from her coils. "She's not a constrictor," Snake said. "She won't hurt you. Leave her—" But it was too late; Mist relaxed suddenly and the

young man lost away and lashed

his

balance. Mist

whipped

herself

Snake wrestled with her alone while the young man tried to hold her, but she curled herself around Snake and used the grip for leverage. She started to pull herself from Snake's hands. Snake threw them both backward into the sand; Mist rose above her, open-mouthed, furious, hissing. The young man lunged and grabbed her just beneath her hood. Mist struck at him, but Snake, somehow, held her back. Together they deprived Mist of her hold and regained control of her. Snake struggled up, but Mist suddenly went quite still and lay almost rigid between them. They were both sweating; the young man was pale under his tan, and even figures in the sand.

Snake was trembling. "We have a little while to rest," Snake glanced at him and noticed the dark line on where,

earlier.

Mist's

had slashed "You'll have a bruise," she

tail

reached up and touched it. said. "But it will not scar."

She his cheek him. She said.

were true that serpents sting with their tails, you would be restraining both the fangs and the stinger, and I'd be of little use." "Tonight I'd need someone to keep me awake, whether or not they helped me with Mist." Fighting the cobra produced adrenalin, but now it ebbed, and her exhaustion and hunger were returning, stronger. "If

it

"Snake

." .

.

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

272

"Yes?"

He

smiled quickly, half-embarrassed.

"I

was trying

the pronunciation."

"Good enough."

"How long

did

it

take you to cross the desert?"

"Not very long. Too long. Six days." "How did you live?" "There is water. We traveled at night, except yesterday, when I could find no shade." "You carried all your food?" She shrugged. "A little." And wished he would not speak of food. "What's on the other side?"

"More sand, more bush, a little more water. A few groups of people, traders, the station I grew up and took

my

training

in.

And

farther on, a

mountain with a

city inside."

would like to see a city. Someday." "The desert can be crossed." He said nothing, but Snake's memories of leaving home were recent enough that she could imagine his "I

thoughts.

The next set of convulsions came, much sooner than Snake had expected. By their severity, she gauged something of the stage of Stavin's illness, and wished it were morning. If she were to lose him, she would have it done, and grieve, and try to forget. The cobra would have battered herself to death against the sand if Snake and the young man had not been holding her. She suddenly went completely rigid, with her mouth

clamped shut and her forked tongue dangling. She stopped breathing. "Hold her," Snake said. "Hold her head. Quickly, take her, and if she gets away, run. Take her! She

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

273

won't strike at you now, she could only slash you by accident."

He

moment, then grasped Mist behind the head. Snake ran, sHpping in the deep sand, from the edge of the circle of tents to a place where hesitated only a

bushes

still

grew. She broke

oflF

dry thorny branches

that tore her scarred hands. Peripherally she noticed a mass of horned vipers, so ugly they seemed deformed,

clump of desiccated vegetation; they hissed at her: she ignored them. She found a narrow hollow stem and carried it back. Her hands nesting beneath the

bled from deep scratches.

Kneeling by cobra's

Mist's

head,

she

forced

mouth and pushed the tube deep

open the into her

through the air passage at the base of Mist's tongue. She bent close, took the tube in her mouth, and breathed gently into Mist's lungs. She noticed: the young man's hands, holding the cobra as she had asked; his breathing, first a sharp gasp of surprise, then ragged; the sand scraping her elbows where she leaned; the cloying smell of the fluid seeping from Mist's fangs; her own dizziness, she thought from exhaustion, which she forced away by throat,

necessity

and

will.

Snake breathed, and breathed again, paused, and repeated, until Mist caught the rhythm and continued it

unaided.

back on her heels. "I think she'll be all she said. "I hope she will." She brushed the

Snake right,"

sat

back of her hand across her forehead. The touch sparked pain: she jerked her hand down and agony along her bones, up her arm, across her shoulder, through her chest, enveloping her heart. Her balance turned on its edge. She fell, tried to catch herself but slid

VONDA moved

N.

McINTYRE

too slowly, fought nausea

274

and vertigo and

almost succeeded, until the pull of the earth seemed to slip

away

in pain

and she was

lost in

darkness with

nothing to take a bearing by.

She

felt

sand where

her palms, but

it

was

it

had scraped her cheek and

soft.

"Snake, can

I let

go?" She

thought the question must be for someone else, while at the same time she knew there was no one else to answer it, no one else to reply to her name. She felt hands on her, and they were gentle; she wanted to

respond to them, but she was too tired. She needed sleep more, so she pushed them away. But they held her head and put dry leather to her lips and poured water into her throat. She coughed and choked and spat

it

out.

She pushed herself up on one elbow. As her sight cleared, she realized she was shaking. She felt as she had the first time she was snake-bit, before her immunities had completely developed. The young man knelt over her, his water flask in his hand. Mist, beyond him, crawled toward the darkness. Snake forgot the throbbing pain. "Mist!" She slapped the ground.

The young man

and turned, frightened; the serpent reared up, her head nearly at Snake's standing eye level, her hood spread, swaying, watching, angry, ready to strike. She formed a wavering white line against black. Snake forced herself to rise, feeling as though she were fumbling with the control of some unfamiliar body. She almost fell again, but held herself steady. "Thou must not go to hunt now," she said. "There is work for thee to do." She held out her right hand to the side, a decoy to draw Mist if she struck. Her hand was heavy with pain. Snake feared, not flinched

being bitten, but the

loss

of the contents of Mist's

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND "Come

poison sacs.

here," she said.

275

"Come

here,

and

thy anger." She noticed blood flowing down between her fingers, and the fear she felt for Stavin was intensified. "Didst thou bite me, creature?" But the pain was wrong: poison would numb her, and the

stay

new serum

only sting

.

.

.

man whispered from behind her. Mist struck. The reflexes of long training took over.

"No," the young

hand jerked away, her left grabbed Mist as she brought her head back. The cobra writhed a moment, and relaxed. "Devious beast," Snake said. "For shame." She turned and let Mist crawl up her arm and over her shoulder, where she lay like the outline of an invisible cape and dragged her tail like Snake's right

the edge of a train.

"She did not bite me?" "No," the young man said. His contained voice was touched with awe. "You should be dying. You should be curled around the agony, and your arm swollen purple. When you came back—" He gestured toward her hand. "It must have been a bush viper." Snake remembered the coil of reptiles beneath the branches and touched the blood on her hand. She

wiped

it

snakebite

away, revealing the double puncture of a

among

wound was

the scratches

slightly swollen. "It

of the

thorns.

The

needs cleaning," she

shame myself by falling to it." The pain of it washed in gentle waves up her arm, burning no longer. She stood looking at the young man, looking around her, watching the landscape shift and change

said. "I

cope with the low light of setting moon and false dawn. "You held Mist well, and bravely," she said to the young man. "I thank as her tired eyes tried to

you."

He

lowered

his gaze, almost

bowing

to her.

He

rose

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

276

Snake put her hand gently on Mist's neck so she would not be alarmed. "I would be honored," the young man said, "if you

and approached

her.

would call me Arevin." "I would be pleased to." Snake knelt down and held the winding white loops Mist crawled slowly into her compartment. In a little while, when Mist had stabilized, by dawn, they as

could go to Stavin.

The

tip of Mist's

closed the case and

white

tail slid

would have

out of sight. Snake

risen,

not stand. She had not quite shaken

but she could the effects of

off

new venom. The flesh around the wound was red and tender, but the hemorrhaging would not spread. She stayed where she was, slumped, staring at her hand, creeping slowly in her mind toward what she needed to do, this time for herself.

the

"Let

me help

you. Please."

He

touched her shoulder and helped her stand. "I'm ." sorry," she said. "I'm so in need of rest "Let me wash your hand," Arevin said. "And then you can sleep. Tell me when to awaken you—" "I can't sleep yet." She collected herself, straight.

ened, tossed the forehead. "I'm

all

damp

.

curls of her short hair off her

now. Have you any water?" outer robe. Beneath it he wore a

right

Arevin loosened his

and a leather belt that carried several leather and pouches. His body was lean and well-built, legs long and muscular. The color of his skin was

loincloth flasks

his

than the sun-darkened brown of his brought out his water flask and reached for Snake's hand. "No, Arevin. If the poison gets in any small scratch you might have, it could infect." She sat down and sluiced lukewarm water over her slightly lighter face.

He

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

277

hand. The water dripped pink to the ground and disappeared, leaving not even a damp spot visible. The wound bled a little more, but now it only ached. The poison was almost inactivated. "

Arevin said, "how it is that you're unhurt. My younger sister was bitten by a bush viper." He could not speak as uncaringly as he might have wished. "We could do nothing to save her— nothing we have would even lessen her pain." Snake gave him his flask and rubbed salve from a vial in her belt pouch across the closing punctures. "I don't

understand,

"We work we must be immune

"It's

a part of our preparation," she said.

with

many many

kinds of serpents, so

She shrugged. "The process is tedious and somewhat painful." She clenched her fist; the film held, and she was steady. She leaned toward Arevin and touched his abraded cheek again. "Yes ." She spread a thin layer of the salve across it. "That will help it heal." "If you cannot sleep," Arevin said, "can you at least to as

.

as possible."

.

rest?"

"Yes," she said. "For a

little

while."

Snake sat next to Arevin, leaning against him, and they watched the sun turn the clouds to gold and flame and amber. The simple physical contact with another human being gave Snake pleasure, though she found it unsatisfying. Another time, another place, she might do something more, but not here, not now. When the lower edge of the sun's bright smear rose above the horizon. Snake rose and teased Mist out of the case. She came slowly, weakly, and crawled across Snake's shoulders. Snake picked up the satchel, and she and Arevin walked together back to the small group of

tents.

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

Stavin's parents waited,

278

watching for her,

side the entrance of their tent.

They stood

just out-

in a tight,

defensive, silent group. For a moment Snake thought they had decided to send her away. Then, with regret

and had

Uke hot iron in her mouth, she asked if Stavin died. They shook their heads and allowed her to fear

enter.

Stavin lay as she had left him,

still

asleep.

The

and she could out her tongue, growing nerv-

adults followed her with their stares,

smell fear. Mist flicked

ous from the implied danger.

Snake said. "I know you would help, if you could, but there is nothing to be done by any person but me. Please go back outside." They glanced at each other, and at Arevin, and she thought for a moment that they would refuse. Snake wanted to fall into the silence and sleep. "Come, cousins," Arevin said. "We are in her hands." He opened the tent-flap and motioned them out. Snake thanked him with nothing more than a glance, and he might almost have smiled. She turned toward Stavin, and knelt beside him. "Stavin—" She touched his forehead; it was very hot. She noticed that her hand was less steady than before. The slight touch awakened the child. "It's time," Snake said. He blinked, coming out of some child's dream, see"I

know you would

stay,"

ing her, slowly recognizing her. He did not look frightened. For that Snake was glad; for some other reason she could not identify, she was uneasy.

"Will

"Does

it it

hurt?"

hurt now?"

He hesitated,

looked away, looked back. "Yes." "It might hurt a little more. I hope not. Are you ready?"

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND "Can Grass

279

stay?"

"Of course," she said. realized what was wrong. "I'll come back in a moment." Her voice changed so much, she had pulled it so tight, that she could not help but frighten him. She left the tent, walking slowly,

And

calmly, restraining herself. Outside, the parents told her by their faces what they feared.

"Where is Grass?" Arevin, his back to her, started at her tone. The younger husband made a small grieving sound and could look at her no longer.

"We were thought

it

afraid,"

would

the older husband said.

"We

bite the child."

thought it would. It was I. It crawled over his face, I could see its fangs—" The wife put her hands on the younger husband's shoulders, and he said no more. "I

"Where is he?" She wanted to scream; she did not. They brought her a small open box. Snake took it and looked inside. Grass lay cut almost in two, his entrails oozing from his body, half turned over, and as she watched, shak-

he writhed once, and flicked his tongue out once, and in. Snake made some sound too low in her throat to be a cry. She hoped his motions were only reflex, but she picked him up as gently as she could. She leaned down and touched her lips to the smooth green scales behind his head. She bit him quickly, sharply, at the base of the skull. His blood flowed cool and salty in her mouth. If he was not dead, she had killed him

ing,

instantly.

She looked at the parents, and at Arevin; they were all pale, but she had no sympathy for their fear, and cared nothing for shared grief. "Such a small crea-

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

280

"Such a small creature, who could only give pleasure and dreams." She watched them for a moment more, then turned toward the tent again. "Wait—" She heard the older husband move up close behind her. He touched her shoulder; she shrugged away his hand. "We will give you anything you want," he said, "but leave the child alone." She spun on him in a fury. "Should I kill Stavin for your stupidity?" He seemed about to try to hold her back. She jammed her shoulder hard into his stomach and flung herself past the tent-flap. Inside, she kicked over the satchel. Abruptiy awakened, and angry. Sand crawled out and coiled himself. When the younger husband and the wife tried to enter, Sand hissed and rattled with a violence Snake had never heard him use before. She did not even bother to look behind her. She ducked her head and wiped her tears on her sleeve before Stavin could see them. She knelt beside ture," she said.

him.

"What's the matter?" voices outside the tent, "Notliing, Stavin,"

came

He

could not help but hear the and the running.

Snake

said.

"Did you know we

across the desert?"

"No," he said, with wonder.

was very

and none of us had anything to is hunting now. He was very hungrv. Will you forgive him and let me begin? I will be here all "It

eat.

hot,

Grass

the time."

He seemed so had no strength

tired;

he was disappointed, but he

for arguing. "All right." His voice

rustled like sand slipping through the fingers.

Snake lifted Mist from her shoulders and pulled the blanket from Stavin's small body. The tumor pressed

up beneath

his rib cage, distorting his form,

his vital organs, sucking

squeezing

nourishment from him for

its

OF MIST, AND GRASS, AND SAND

281

own

growth, poisoning him with its wastes. Holding Mist's head, Snake let her flow across him, touching and tasting him. She had to restrain the cobra to keep her from striking; the excitement had agitated her.

When Sand

used

his rattle, the vibrations

made

her

Snake stroked her, soothing her; trained and bred-in responses began to return, overcoming the natural instincts. Mist paused when her tongue flicked flinch.

the skin above the tumor, and Snake released her.

The cobra

reared,

and

struck,

and

bit as cobras bite,

sinking her fangs their short length once, releasing, instantly biting again for a better purchase, holding on,

chewing

at her prey. Stavin cried out, but

he did

move against Snake's restraining hands. Mist expended the contents of her venom sacs into the child and released him. She reared up, peered not

around, folded her hood, and

slid across the

mats in a

perfectly straight line toward her dark close com-

partment. done, Stavin."

"It's

"Will

I die now?*' "No," Snake said. "Not now. Not for many years, I hope." She took a vial of powder from her belt pouch.

"Open your mouth." He complied, and she sprinkled the powder across his tongue. "That will help the ache." She spread a pad of cloth across the series of shallow puncture wounds without wiping off the blood.

She turned from him. "Snake? Are you going away?" "I

will

not

leave

without

saying

goodbye.

I

promise."

The

child lay back, closed his eyes,

and

let

the drug

take him.

Sand coiled quiescently on the dark matting. Snake

"

VONDA patted the floor to

N.

McINTYRE

him.

call

282

He moved toward

her and

suffered himself to be replaced in the satchel. Snake

closed

it

and

lifted

it,

and

it still

felt

empt)\ She heard

noises outside the tent. Stavin's parents and the people

who had come and peered

to help

them pulled open

inside, thrusting sticks in

the tent-flap

even before they

looked.

Snake

set

down her leather

case. "It's done."

They entered. Arevin was with them too; only he was empty-handed. "Snake—" He spoke through grief, pity, confusion, and Snake could not tell what he believed. He looked back. Stavin's mother was just behind him. He took her by the shoulder. "He would have died without her. Whatever happens now, he would have died." She shook his hand away. "He might have lived. It might have gone away.

more

We—"

She could speak no

for hiding tears.

Snake felt the people moving, surrounding her. Arevin took one step toward her and stopped, and she could see he wanted her to defend herself. "Can any of you cry?" she said. "Can any of you cry for me and

my

despair, or for

things

and

them and

their pain?"

She

their guilt, or for small felt tears slip dov^ni

her

cheeks.

They did not understand her; they were offended by her crying. They stood back, still afraid of her, but gathering themselves. She no longer needed the pose of calmness she had used to deceive the child. "Ah, you fools." Her voice sounded brittle. "Stavin— Light from the entrance struck them. "Let me pass." The people in front of Snake moved aside for their leader. She stopped in front of Snake, ignoring the satchel her foot almost touched. "Will Stavin live?" Her voice was quiet, calm, gentle.

OF "I

MIST,

AND

GRASS,

cannot be certain," Snake

AND SAND said,

"but

I

283

feel that

he

will."

"Leave

us."

The people understood

Snake's words

before they did their leader's; they looked around and

lowered their weapons, and finally, one by one, they moved out of the tent. Arevin remained. Snake felt the strength that came from danger seeping from her. Her knees collapsed. She bent over the satchel with her face in her hands.

The

older

woman

knelt in front of

her before Snake could notice or prevent her. "Thank ." She you," she said. "Thank you. I am so sorry .

.

put her arms around Snake and drew her toward her, and Arevin knelt beside them, and he embraced Snake too.

Snake began

to tremble again,

and they held her

while she cried. Later she

slept,

exhausted, alone in the tent with

The people had caught small Sand and Mist. They had given her food

Stavin, holding his hand.

animals for

and supplies and sufficient water for her to bathe, though the last must have strained their resources.

When his

she awakened, Arevin lay sleeping nearby,

robe open in the heat, a sheen of sweat across

chest and stomach.

vanished

when he

The slept;

his

sternness in his expression

he looked exhausted and

Snake almost woke him, but stopped, shook her head, and turned to Stavin. She felt the tumor and found that it had bcgim to dissolve and shrivel, dying, as Mist's changed poison

vulnerable.

Through her grief Snake felt a littie joy. She smoothed Stavin's pale hair back from his face. "I would not lie to you again, little one," she whispered, "but I must leave soon. I cannot stay here." She wanted another three days' sleep to finish fighting off affected

it.

VONDA

N.

McINTYRE

284

the effects of the bush viper's poison, but she would sleep

He

somewhere

else.

"Stavin?"

half woke, slowly. "It doesn't hurt

any more," he

said. "I

am

glad."

"Thank you

." .

.

"Goodbye, Stavin. Will vou remember later on that you woke up, and that I did stay to say goodbye?" "Goodbye," he said, drifting off again. "Goodbye, Snake. Goodbye, Grass." He closed his eyes. Snake picked up the satchel and stood gazing down at Areyin.

she

left

He

did not

stir.

Half-grateful, half -regretful,

the tent.

Dusk approached wath long, indistinct shadovys; the camp was hot and quiet. She found her tiger-striped pony tethered with food and water. New, full waterbulged on the ground next to the saddle, and desert robes lay across the pommel, though Snake had refused any payment. The tiger-pony whickered at her. She scratched his striped ears, saddled him, and strapped her gear on his back. Leading him, she started west, the way she had come. "Snake—" She took a breath and turned back to Are\in. He skins

was facing the sun; robe

scarlet.

it turned his skin rudd\- and his His streaked hair flowed loose to his

shoulders, gentling his face. "You must leave?" "Yes."

hoped you would not leave before ... I hoped ." you would stay, for a time "If things were different, I might have stayed." "The\' were frightened—" "I told them Grass couldn't hurt them, but they saw his fangs and they didn't know he could only give dreams and ease dying." "I

.

.

OF

MIST,

AND

GRASS,

AND SAND

285

"But can't you forgive them?" "I can't face their guilt.

Arevin.

I

What

they did was

them

didn't understand

"You said it yourself, you and all the fears."

can't

my

face ity. it

I

cannot help at

They seldom

to

and hope

teachers,

know

all

all. I

the customs

I

if

I

can't

must go home and

they'll forgive

name

give the

fault,

until too late."

"I'm crippled," she said. "Without Grass, heal a person,

my

my

stupid-

bear, but they gave

me— and they'll be disappointed." me come with you."

"Let

She wanted

to;

she hesitated, and cursed herself for

"They may take Mist and Sand and and you would be cast out too. Stay here,

that weakness. cast

me

out,

Arevin."

I

"It

wouldn't matter."

"It

would. After a while,

don't

know

you,

we would hate each other. and you don't know me. We need

calmness, and quiet, and time to understand each other well."

He came toward

her and put his arms around her,

and they stood embracing for a moment. When he raised his head, there were tears on his cheeks. "Please come back," he said. "Whatever happens, please come back."

Snake said. "Next spring, when the winds stop, look for me. The spring after that, if I do not come, forget me. Wherever I am, if I live, I will "I

will try,"

forget you." "I will look for you,"

Arevin

said,

and he would

promise no more. Snake picked up her pony's lead and started across the desert.

About the Editor Pamela Sargent studied at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where she received her B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. She is the author of over twenty science-fiction stories which have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy ir Science

New

Worlds, Universe, Eros in Orbit, Wandering Stars, And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire, Fellowship of the Stars, and other magaFiction,

and anthologies. She is also the author of a novel, Cloned Lives ( Fawcett-Gold Medal). She zines

lives in upstate

New York.

CIENCE FICTION &

WOMEN S STUDIES

These twelve first-class stories by women writers explore changing sex roles in the time-honored male preserve of science fiction. Judith Merril: "That Only a Mother"

Katherine MacLean: "Contagion"

Marion Zimmer Bradley: "The Wind People"

Anne McCaffrey: "The Ship Who Sang" Sonya Dorman: "When Kit

I

Was Miss Dow"

Reed: "The Food Farm"

Kate Wilhelm: "Baby, You Were Great" Carol Emshwiller: "Sex and/or Mr. Morrison" Jrsula K. Le Guin: "Vaster Than Empires

and More Slow"

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: "False Dawn"

Joanna Russ: "Nobody's Home"

Vonda

N. Mclntyre:

"Of

Mist,

and Grass, and Sand"